MUSKIES' TEAM 96 REBOUNDS AT HOME!! ST.JOHNS A PERPLEXING 0-6 TEAM???
By Andy Mac Williams, 1/16/2018

Is home court advantage overrated in college basketball?? After Xavier dropped two straight last week at Providence and at Villanova and the internet prophets of doom started panicking and labeling the Muskies mediocre, I did a little deep research. XU is 1-13 at Providence, Villanova and Seton Hall in five seasons of the New BIG EAST with a date against the SHU Pirates coming up this Saturday at the Rock(Prudential Center) in Newark, New Jersey. X is 0-4 there. Even Andy Mac might pick the Hall in that one. The lone win took place two years ago at PC when J.P. Macura pulled up early in the shot clock and buried a long three (as Chris Mack tried in vain to call a time-out) to give the Muskies a two possession lead over the rallying Friars with about a minute to play. We're talking good to great Xavier teams here!!!

Four NCAA teams including a Sweet 16 and an Elite 8 with an overall .750 ish winning percentage. You bet there's a giant home court advantage especially among top teams that attract rabid crowds. Xavier is 29-10 in BIG EAST games at Cintas. This season so far the Top Four BE teams(Seton Hall, Villanova, Xavier and Creighton) are 11-0 collectively in conference home games and even more impressively those four teams are 43-0 overall in their home cities. Xavier followed the pattern in their bounce back massacre of Creighton(92-70).

THE CREIGHTON GAME:

Coach Mack changed the line-up starting Naji Marshall over Kaiser Gates and Kerem Kanter over injured Tyrique Jones(swollen right hand). Marshall was being rewarded for his full effort 13 point performance at Villanova.

Naji delivered the defense against Creighton star Marcus Foster who worked himself into early foul trouble. The defensive effort and fast start reminded me of the Baylor and UC wins. The packline was engaged and active. Very little zone was needed. CU came in with the NCAA's third most efficient offense(points/possession). The Muskies held them to sub 40% shooting-forcing 20 turnovers-with 11 steals.

Blue Jays starters Toby Hegner, Khyri Thomas and Davion Mintz were a composite 0 for 12 from the field. Creighton Coach Greg McDermott tried four different point guards(Mintz-Alexander-Clement and Kaleb Joseph). Quentin Gooden and Paul Scruggs outplayed them by a mile. Scruggs logged his best minutes as a Muskie(6 points-2 assists-2 steals).

Mack played "Q" and Scruggs a lot together with Gooden lining up off the ball. Those two looked comfortable as a guard tandem and that's bad news for enemy coaches.

Xavier exploited their edge in girth in the paint. Kanter and O'Mara combined for 28 points-12 rebounds and 4 assists. BIG SEAN went on a personal 7 point run to basically salt away the win early in the second half.

Trevon Bluiett scored 24 efficiently(5-7 from three). J.P. Macura stuffed the stat sheet(10 points-6 rebounds-5 assists-2 steals) in only 22 minutes. More Scruggs may mean a more productive Macura in fewer less stressed out minutes.

Gates shot off the bench like like a catapult playing his best basketball since he took a shot to the head in the ETSU game. Kaiser made his threes, but he attacked the rim also(16 points-8 boards)-made close-in shots and got to the foul line. Three game losing streak averted and order restored in Xavier nation!!

SCOUTING ST JOHNS:

The Red Storm seem rather enigmatic with a 10-8 overall record-a 64 RPI and an attacking mistake-producing defense. Somehow, third year Coach Chris Mullin's Johnnies are 0-6 and dead last in the Big East though. The season-ending knee injury to Guard Marcus Lovett(15PPG in 7 games played before Christmas) is a factor.

SJU now lacks back court depth. Frosh Bryan Trimble is the lone back court sub. Malik Ellison transferred to Pitt. Lovett shot the three ball well while Shamorie Ponds continues as the Storm's top offensive weapon, but he's primarily a driver(20PPG) and great FT shooter. Ponds is as impactful as Howard and Rowsey(Marquette) except now his wing man Lovett is out. SJU is dangerous though. They lost 69-66 to Georgetown at MSG and #1 Villanova led by just 4 in NYC Saturday night with 1:14 to play before winning 78-71. Ponds poured in 37 for St Johns. SJU is 0-2 in BE road games losing by 5 at Seton Hall when neither Ponds now Lovett played and by 7 to Creighton in Omaha. They're the best in the BIG EAST in forcing turnovers-getting steals and blocking shots.

They have issues on the glass(minus 11 in rebounding). They shoot just 29% from three(5-34 in recent tight losses to G-town and Villanova). Transfers Justin Simon(6-5 PG-Arizona) and Marvin Clark(6-7 PF-Michigan State) are iron man starters. Bashir Ahmed(12PPG-5 Rebs) is a talented Small Forward type. 6-11 Tariq Owens(Tennessee transfer) is an elite shot blocker(64 on the season).

The players like to play for Mullin with his NBA approach. If the threes are falling and the Johnnies are running off the mistakes their good defense forces, St Johns can hurt you. They own Top 100 RPI wins over Nebraska and UCF and they gave Arizona State a scare at Staples Center in Los Angeles. They have not mailed in any BE games so far despite the 0-6 start. XU maintains focus and plays the home court card winning 89-78!!




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