By Andy Mac Williams, 12/4/2017

Xavier (7-1,now #13 in the AP Top 25 and #14 in the Coaches' Poll) made the absolute most of home court advantage, repeating the same simple winning formula twice in five days in taking out #16 Baylor 76-63 and #11 Cincinnati 89-76 at Cintas Center. XU combined a fast focused start with dominating rebounding-sticky packline defense and prolific game clinching free throw shooting to win both games in a walk. Saturday's Crosstown Shootout victory over UC marked the Muskies' 35th straight non-conference home court "W" dating back almost 5 years. 10,817 showed up for a Noon tip despite tons of college football competition. Xavier (7-1, now #13 in the AP Top 25 and #14 in the Coaches' Poll) made the absolute most of home court advantage. That crowd figure set a new Cintas Center record (probably soon to be broken) with 5 star BIG EAST home tilts against Butler, Creighton, Seton Hall, PC, Villanova, etc. just over the horizon.


XU blitzed out of the gate against Baylor Tuesday night and led 21-8 after 7 plus minutes. The Muskies shot the BIG 12 Bears out of their precious signature1-1-3 zone and made them chase the score the rest of the evening with man defense and later with a desperation press. The start against UC was even more impressive. Xavier led 9-1. Cincy's first FG came almost five minutes into the game. X pounded the ball inside early and often with high-low feeds to Tyrique Jones and Sean O'Mara. XU smothered UC with swarming packline defense-double and triple teaming their Senior post Gary Clark. Quentin Gooden marked high scoring wing shooter Jacob Evans and kept him off the score sheet. He didn't do much until garbage time in the second half.

Chris Mack went to his bench with Xavier leading 23-9. The second unit more than held its own. Kerem Kanter embarked on a personal 10 point run and the Muskies led 33-15 when he exited. Kanter is becoming an efficient extra scoring option creating plenty of headaches for the enemy defense(last three games-45 minutes played total-38 points-12-16 from 2 point range-7-11 free throws) and his three point stroke is just coming around. Coach Mack is cementing a very functional 9 man rotation with O'Mara and Kanter playing double digit BIG MAN minutes to spell Tyrique Jones.

Frosh Naji Marshall is supplying energy subbing at 2 thru 4. He changed the course of the Baylor win by attacking the basket. Paul Scruggs is getting better as Quentin Gooden's relief at point guard. "Q" negotiated UC's full court press and overpowered their smallish guards to the tune of 10 points and 8 assists after scoring 6 with 8 assists in the Baylor game. He was clearly the best lead guard on the floor in the three high profile Xavier wins so far at Wisconsin and home versus Baylor and Cincinnati.

The emergence of Junior Kaiser Gates as a 30 minute man at the Power Forward is a game changer. Gates gave us a glimpse in the NCAAs against Florida State and Maryland. He's grabbed the 4 position by the throat for TEAM 96. Kaiser potted a career high 19 points in the Baylor win making critical buckets down the stretch to help close-out the win. He did it again in the Shootout. 7 of his 10 points came over the final 8 minutes. Gates muscled an offensive rebound with 5 minutes left and scored on a stick back to put Xavier up 72-57. He drilled a wing "three" with 3:41 left to re-establish a 15 point Muskie lead to 77-62. Kaiser recorded his first double-double(10 points-10 rebounds).

He banged willingly in the post against Bearcat leader Gary Clark. Gates' emergence allows Trevon Bluiett to play a rover small forward position where he can probe and move off the ball to get his outside shot and line up his defender for drives to the hoop. Trevon does not have to defend 6-7 and 6-8 guys as much below the free throw line now. His job is less taxing physically. Gates is a better match-up against a true power forward and he's faster than most of those larger bodies also. Gates' lethal three point stroke is now just a part of his skill set(add rebounding-defending and recently putting the ball on the floor).


Bluiett and J.P. Macura and Sean O'Mara finish up their careers at 3-1 against the Bearcats. No Muskie has ever gone 4-0. The 3 win club is growing fast now considering Xavier's recent dominance in the Series(won 4 of 5-8 of 11-7 straight wins over Cincy at Cintas since the lone loss way back in 2001 when George W. Bush was President and Dow Jones hadn't broken past 10,000).

Trevon won the 2015 Shootout with two late Free throws. He poured in 40 in Clifton during the Muskies' 86-78 loss last January. Saturday Bluiett led all scores with 28 points making 5 three pointers and swishing critical game icing FTS(9-11). X attacked the rim after cracking the UC press and got into the FT bonus early making 16 of 19 down the stretch to win going away(89-76 plus 13).


Xavier learned volumes from last season's Shootout butt whipping in Clifton. Tyrique Jones and Quentin Gooden earned their spurs that night and became regulars. Coach Mack reminded his team incessantly about the rebound punking administered by the Bearcats. 19 offensive rebounds given up!! Outscored 30-4 in the paint!! That stuff helped remake TEAM 95 into an NCAA Elite 8 group and carried over into TEAM 96's focus on revenge and rebounding. Mack wore a practice shirt emblazoned with a HUGE#19 at practice leading up to the UC game. The message obviously resonated and the stats were flipped.

Mack is now 6-3 against the Bearcats. Mick Cronin is 4-7 vs Xavier and 0-4 at Cintas. We'll be charitable and give the 2015 Dee Davis Shootout loss to interim coach Larry Davis(0-1). Cronin missed the game because of illness.

TEAM 96 is second in the NCAA in 2 point FG%(62.5) with plenty of lay-ups,dunks and stick backs and a lot more transition baskets. The Muskies own the 4th most efficient offense out of 351 D-1 teams in terms of points/possession. XU is 26th in free throw percentage(77.7%) and just as importantly 10th in free throws attempted at 27 tries/game.

The Muskies have made more free throws(167) than the enemy has attempted(158). That exceeds Skip Prosser's ultimate statistical litmus test for success. XU has kept the 1-3-1 zone in moth balls so far. The packline defense is percolating. Xavier is outscoring the opposition by 30PPG against a string schedule(#38 nationally-including 3 Top 25 teams-#16 Arizona State,#17 UC,#23 Baylor).


Coach Mack came through loud and clear when he said that the prime narrative coming out of the Shootout was that XU played better and harder and smarter than UC. So maybe I shouldn't proceed here, but...!!!!

Was Cronin trying to deflect attention from his team's less than stellar performance by commenting on his running verbal exchanges with Macura? and ripping on the player? Mick sounded indignant and shocked and disgusted by J.P.s conduct just as he had in his post Shootout fight monologue back in 2011. He was a brilliant blow hard then and clearly won the PR war. The National Media lapped up his sanctimonious condescending drivel (about taking his player's uniforms away and making them earn the right to play for his storied Bearcats and so on and son on ad nauseum). Six cupcake wins later all his fellas were back on the floor-ready to play conference games.

Cronin presumably is the adult in the equation and a leader.Why not drop it and call Chris Mack later if you're that hacked off?? My sources courtside tell me Mick traded profane barbs with Macura, He was warned by a ref to shut it. He proceeded to call John Paul (named after a beloved Pope by the way!!) a p----y and was assessed a technical foul.

Mick compounded the situation by refusing to shake Macura's hand after the game. J.P. chirped in response (although I understand he had a handshake buzzer-whoopy cushion ready to zap Cronin). Mick faked a half hearted charge toward the Xavier player then was escorted off.

Macura is no choir boy. He's a first class provocateur-disturber-disrupter and distractor. J.P.'s been scrambling opponent's minds since Freshman year. First Big East Game-he cruised up to Georgetown star D'Vante Smith Rivera-engaged him in conversation and got him off his game.

Butler fans hate him for many reasons including an emphatic tomahawk dunk two years ago with seconds left in a blow-out XU win. He enraged the Wisconsin Grateful Red student section this season at Madison with a late game alley oop dunk followed by the Gator Chomp in tribute to the Badger's OT NCAA loss to Florida. Kudos to the kid!! He knows his basketball history.

J.P. stirs the pot but he's our(Xavier) pot stirrer and we love him!! Don't tell me Cronin wouldn't love to have him on his roster if given the opportunity -- Cronin tried like the devil to get Macura to make an unofficial visit to Clifton while he was in Cincy talking with Xavier. 55 Bearcat phone calls were not returned!!

Cronin was frustrated and he lost his cool at Cintas. He owes J.P. an apology. Chris Mack defended his player rather eloquently. Maybe Mick was lobbying for Mack to suspend Macura for conduct unbecoming a D-1 scholarship player??

My advice!! Coach your own team and use Saturday's object lessons administered at Cintas to make your team better against Florida at the Rock in Newark this Saturday. Xavier TEAM 96 now benefits RPI-wise from Bearcat victories so go get some!!

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