MUSKIES IN MAUI!!! PLUSSES-PROGRESS-PROBLEM AREAS!
Andy Mac Williams,
The Maui Invitational proved an awesome experience for Andy Mac and, hopefully, for Xavier basketball. I got to mix in tropical hikes with early season whale watching and sumptuous luaus and plenty of pool time augmented by copious quantities of fruity drinks. My seat courtside at the Lahaina Civic Center gave me an up close view of an evolving Muskie basketball team and the opportunity to make faces at Bill Walton every time I walked behind his ESPN broadcast location. The Big Redhead must be perpetually high on something. He called Xavier coach Skip Prosser "Steve" throughout a mid-1990s TV broadcast against Notre Dame in South Bend. In Maui he introduced Travis Steele as Iowa State's head coach at last Sunday's pre-tourney banquet. But I digress. The Maui field was loaded with 3 TOP 10 teams Gonzaga, Duke and Auburn. There was no Division 2 Chaminade for the first time ever and really no low or even mid-major D-1s. The event proved the perfect test tube for a Xavier team that's a work in progress. Bottom line-this XU team plays extremely hard and fearlessly.
The effort is unquestioned with this group. The unselfishness is a given. There are no hoggish shot hunters on this team. Proper ball movement and late shot clock management may be issues. but they are problems of execution which will smooth out with repetition against high level competition. That's what Maui provided!! Three great growth games!!
The 1-2 record in the Islands could easily have been 2-1. Shoulda, woulda, coulda!! If Naji Marshall drains a tough "3" early in the OT loss to Auburn, Xavier takes the lead and maybe wins. If Quentin Goodin nails an open wing "3" with just over 2 minutes left vs San Diego State, X grabs a 66-64 lead plus they're in the double bonus and SDSU has to chase the score instead of XU. Let's face it! Nobody was going 3-0 in Maui other than Gonzaga (winners knocking off Duke 89-87), Duke or Auburn. The scary thing is The Zags beat Coach K and the Dukies without their 6-10 French import Killen Tillie.
Obviously, the win over Illinois(83-74) was huge. X slaughtered Ill. inside outrebounding them by 12 and owning the paint points 36-20. The refs actually let Tyrique Jones play. He posted 24 minutes after playing well less than 20 minutes against Auburn and SDSU. Jones owned the glass (8 points-9 boards-2 blocks-2 steals). The waters parted when he boxed out for a rebound. Tyrique dumped the head band and debuted a new hair style featuring tight corn rolls. It must have made him more aerodynamically sleek.
Jones now leads the NCAA in offensive rebound percentage. He was a massive +20 for the 3 games and Xavier lost twice. Tyrique is freakishly strong and likes to show it. Officials give him a consistent bad whistle, because little guys just bounce off him and game the zebras with flop after flop. More Tyrique on the floor(like 25 minutes/game) can only enhance the Muskies' chances for wins.
Zach Hankins also had a productive 3 days with 35 points and 12 rebounds. He's shooting 71%FG-drawing fouls inside-blocking shots and rebounding offensively at a high level. Finding ways of playing TY and ZACH together is hard. There is no viable third BIG MAN option right now. Maybe some form of zone defense could curb foul trouble! What a post load those two together could be!! Just a match-up nightmare and both can shoot free throws.
Paul Scruggs enjoyed a terrific all court stat stuffing 3 games(37 points-21 rebounds-10 assists-6 steals). Some of his hustle plays and acrobatic out of bounds saves were spectacular. He is an energy effort engine for this team and a physical nasty defender plus he rebounds like a small forward and his PG skills are improving.
Quentin Gooden is rounding into shape after missing 4 weeks with the shoulder dislocation. He hit the floor frequently and just kept playing. Q is an amazing mix of dynamic full court player and prime time PG and shooter. He should be 100% for the Crosstown Shootout in two weeks.
Naji Marshall looked much more like himself against Illinois (better decisions-running well-driving baseline etc,). Naji lost 15 pounds while sick two weeks ago. He will be clicking on all cylinders for the Bearcats (Dec. 8th).
The depth is improving. Elias Harden emerged as a scorer(9 points SDSU-14 Points Illinois)(7-9 from three point range).Keonte Kennedy played extended minutes and was on the floor at winning time to help close out the Illinois victory. He exploded for a fast break dunk and showed his smooth three point stroke. Against Illinois he scored 8 with 4 rebounds and was a nifty +10. Overall ball movement got much better against Ill. Brad Underwood tested XU with his press and pressure style trying to break them on the third game in three days. Xavier handled the press well and attacked the rim repeatedly. This team can get out and run-dominate the post and bury you in two by two scoring and the three point shooting is improving.
Defense especially at the three point arc has been porous. The enemy is shooting 42.2% from outside the arc-taking a ton of threes and scoring almost 50% of their points from long range. Three point defense probably cost wins over Auburn and SDSU. X has a large point deficit in three pointers. Is it the packline or just where the puck is moving in all of basketball?? Better coverage outside is the answer. XU has the athletes to close out. The system is still being learned. More zone also might be a consideration.
Free throw shooting has been spotty(64%) except against Auburn(21-24). Xavier gets to the line enough though. Turnovers are too high, but ball movement is improving.
The Muskies' team trajectory is positive IMHO. 3-3 is OK considering the high level of competition. The upside is considerable. Three home games before the Shootout provide the potentially perfect set up for UC. The MAC schools (Miami and Ohio U) are testy. Oakland(Horizon League) is a perpetual contender under Greg Kampe.
The MAC Miami Redhawks at Cintas Wednesday(6:30PM EST-TV FS1). Miami is 3-3 under 2nd year coach Jack Owens (Purdue assistant). They blew out Army 85-55 Saturday in Oxford.