Losing Streak Snapped by Xavier Resurgence
Sentiment surrounding Xavier basketball was not overly positive over the past week. After dropping two in a row to Providence and Villanova on the road, the Musketeers were weary and needed to find solace at home. Cintas Center was welcoming and Xavier looked the part of a top ten team in the nation. The sell out home crowd was gifted with 24 slump-ending-points from Trevon Bluiett and a 92-70 win.
Chris Mack chose to shake up the starting lineup and moved freshman Naji Marshall and grad senior Kerem Kanter to the opening group, sending a stagnant Kaiser Gates to the bench. This decision would pay dividends for all parties involved. Kanter and Marshall were double digit scorers and showed aggression that had been lacking in the prior games. However, Kaiser Gates may have benefited most from the switch as he played with heart and racked up 16 points and 8 rebounds to pace the bench unit.
Naturally, Trevon Bluiett is always the name on Xavier fans minds and any suspicion of regression or injury was quelled by an efficient 24 points on 9-16 shooting including 5-7 from the arc. It is a good sign to see this production and just goes to show how hand in hand Bluiett's success goes with the team's offensive success.
The game never felt close and, by halftime, X had a 16 point advantage and 50 points. Xavier would finish with 92 points, the highest total since the December 9th matchup with Colorado. The defense should also be noted as a re-vamped zone scheme held the Bluejays 20 points under their season average. The balanced efficiency on both ends of the court is what has been lacking and will be what is needed to find success in the deep Big East this year.
Xavier moves on from this win feeling revitalized and excited for the rest of the regular season. It gets no easier from here on out though. As Big East play continues, games will remain competitive and challenging. However, if X plays like they did today, there is no reason to believe they don't have a shot at winning the conference with a home bout against Villanova looming February 17th which could possibly be for the regular season championship.
Looking ahead, Xavier welcomes St. John's to Cintas on Wednesday. The Red Storm are currently 10-7 and are winless in the conference but there is no reason to take the foot off of the gas.