MUSKIES LEARN LESSONS IN VEGAS!! PREPARE FOR BIG BOY WEEK VS BAYLOR AND UC!!
Andy Mac Williams,
Many expected a Xavier coronation at the two day Continental Tire Invitational in Las Vegas. Reality interceded!! the Muskies netted a split not a sweep beating George Washington 83-64 then losing 102-86 to Arizona State. Long term team building is a process that Coach Chris Mack and staff are extremely familiar with and rather expert at executing as in 7 NCAA bids in 8 seasons with 3 Sweet 16s plus an Elite 8 and a 10-7 NCAA record overall. Mack teams have averaged about 4 defeats/season in the non-conference portion. We hate to lose,but an "L" absorbed and learned from before Christmas usually translates into multiple "Ws" down the road in March. That's the history!!
THANKSGIVING NIGHT- XU VS GW:
The Atlantic 10 Colonials were more stubborn than expected. Xavier led uncomfortably 43-36 at the half. Their young guards were hard to control. Their BIGS did some damage. The Muskies started to make shots after halftime and pulled away to win 83-64. J.P. Macura struggled for a second straight game(just 6 points). The PGs(Gooden and Scruggs) combined for 7 turnovers. "Q" attacked the rim well for 16 points though and added 4 assists plus 4 steals.
Sean O'Mara again proved he's at his best rolling toward the basket(5-6 FGs-10 points) not trying to score with back to the basket post moves. Naji Marshall did well off the bench(8 points on 4-6 FGs in 15 minutes). Coach Mack dusted off the 1-3-1 zone for the final four minute war helping XU close on a 21-8 run-controlling tempo and forcing GW into bad shot selection. A win is a win,but the performance wasn't that inspiring.
XU VS ARIZONA STATE:
The PAC 12 Sun Devils were extended Thursday in the late game-sliding by a decent Kansas State team 92-90. With a quick turn-around to a 5:30PM-EST Friday Tip and basically a one man bench,it seemed clear advantage to Xavier over ASU despite their 5-0 record and the wins over San Diego State and K-State.No way their guards could hold up for 40 minutes?? Right?? Wrong!! The Muskies controlled things early-pounding the ball inside and playing their game Two or three passes netted a great shot every possession. XU got running and jetted to a 44-29(plus 15 point) lead with 3:13 left until halftime. ASU proceeded to win the final 4 minute war 15-2. Xavier led tenuously 46-44 at the break.
The lead happened too easily. X started playing the basket trading game and the veteran ASU guards Tra Holder and Shannon Evans went nuts. The Sun Devils played 4 small most of the last 23 minutes. Their BIGS were irrelevant. ASU blew by XU with straight line drives and rained in three pointers outscoring Xavier 73-42 to the end(102-86 ASU the Final). It's the most points ever given up by a Mack team. K-State beat XU 101-96 in two OTs at Salt Lake City in the 2010 NCAA Sweet 16. Villanova poured in 95 at the Pavilion in 2014 in 40 minutes. Chris Mack describes those VU road games through 4 BIg East seasons as Xavier's annual Philadelphia ass kickings. Defense-not good against ASU-borderline non-existent.
The 31 point swing against Xavier from plus 15 to minus 16 is the largest I remember since Texas in the 1990 NCAA Sweet 16 at Dallas.XU led by 18 and lost by 13(102-89) to the Longhorns and their BMW Boys(Lance Blanks-Travis Mays and Joey Wright). ASU's bookend guards Holder and Evans dropped 40 and 22. Circus shots-sure! Open shots-far too many!!
Lessons learned?? We'll find out quickly against #16 Baylor Tuesday at Cintas followed by #11 UC Saturday off Victory Parkway in the Crosstown Shootout. There were some silver linings. Macura scored 23 and rediscovered his three point stroke. Kerem Kanter flashed a wide assortment of post moves including an Anthony Myles-like up and under and scored 12 in 13 minutes making all 6 FG tries.
Naji Marshall attacked and thrived in the up tempo pace(9 points-5 rebounds).Most everything else I've erased from my memory banks. Hopefully this reality check and two stiff practices Sunday and Monday can restore order against the Baylor Bears Tuesday(6:30PM-EST-Fox Sports 1).
The BIG 12 Bears are the real deal at 5-0 and rated #16 in AP. They've been off 7 days in the wake of two solid wins over Wisconsin(70-65) and Creighton(65-59) at the Hall of Fame Classic in Kansas City. This is a gritty long athletic BU group featuring 4 impact Seniors-a primo PG Manu Lecomte-a rim protecting rebound gathering 7 footer Jo Lual-Acil and two 6-8 inside guys Terry Maston and Nuni Omet. The sniping two guard is 6-3 Junior King Mc Clure who scored a career high 19 to spur a big comeback win against Creighton. Lecomte drilled 13 of 15 free throws to hold off the Wisconsin Badgers. Lual_Acil was selected Tourney MVP posting two double-doubles in KC. Baylor plays 8.
They lost 3 key players from last season's NCAA team(6-10 Jonathon Motley-NBA Guard Al Freeman-grad transfer to NC State-now their best player-Guard Ish Wainwright-graduated)but 6-9 Frosh Tristan Clark(Texas Mr Basketball) and 6-5 swing guard Jake Lindsey have filled right in. Baylor clobbered Xavier 76-61 early last December in Waco. The Muskies collapsed late in a flurry of turnovers and forced three point attempts and missed foul shots. Trevon Bluiett got into foul trouble. Macura was bounced around like a pinata and shot 2 for 16. XU won the rebound numbers convincingly but struggled against Coach Scott Drew's infamous 1-1-3 funky morphing zone.
BU has been kryptonite to XU(Muskies 0-3 since 2009-loss at Disney-NCAA Sweet 16 loss in Atlanta 2012-massacre at Waco last season). Drew knows what he's doing(302 wins in 15 seasons with 4 Sweet 16s and an Elite 8). He controls tempo with the zone-blocks out the sun with his length-murders teams with free throw differential and develops players like Lual-Acil (Sudan and Australia) Omot (JUCO) Lecompte (Miami Hurricane transfer) and gets them believing in his system.
Baylor is stubborn and resilient. They'll wear you down with the zone and beat you late or rally with a flurry of free throws and nip you at the end or just blow you out using their superior size. Xavier's long 33 game home court non-conference game Cintas Center win streak is in severe jeopardy against Baylor (Xavier last lost a non-conf game at Cintas on December 22nd 2012 56-55 to Wofford-almost 5 full seasons ago).
HOW DOES XAVIER WIN THIS???
TEAM 96 must regroup quickly after the ASU downer. Home court advantage will be huge if XU starts decently as they did in the first three games including Wisconsin. Patience is vital against the Baylor zone so young PGs Gooden and Scruggs need to make solid decisions. To beat the zone X must get the ball to the middle-the elbow area-then attack baseline. Easier said than done against a bevy of very active 6-9 to 7 foot leapers. Lual-Acil will block shots. The Xavier BIGS have to keep trying in close to the basket. Baylor wants you to settle for contested jumpers. Witness Creighton's nasty 5 for 30 from three point range. That's why the BIG EAST Blue Jays blew a fat lead a week ago and lost to Baylor. PG Lecomte can't go nuts(24 vs XU in Waco).
X needs balanced scoring and stable bench minutes from Frosh Scruggs and Marshall plus an appearance from the NCAA Sean O'Mara plus some sneaky post scoring from improving Kerem Kanter. Xavier slipped to #21 in the AP Top 25 after the Arizona State loss(ASU is now #20). Wins over Baylor and UC Saturday in the Shootout maker the ASU defeat into a minor speed bump. It's a tall order but anything is possible with this veteran Xavier group especially here at Cintas. Is this too much to hope for this early?? Two back to back quality home court victories?? We'll soon find out!! There's plenty of motivation and gobs of talent!! Xavier 74 Baylor 68!! Bring on the Bearcats!!