By Andy Mac Williams, 2/8/2019

Xavier opened their 18 game BIG EAST schedule December 29th with a 74-65 win over DePaul in Chicago. X led at the half 38-32-wobbled and trailed 61-55 with 5:12 left in regulation then stormed back to sink DU with a 19-4 run to the finish. Since then, the Muskies are 2-7 in conference games and saddled currently with a 5 game losing streak. Very un-Xavier like. Potential excuses are available(lack of depth because of the coaching change-a flurry of close losses and final 4 minute war meltdowns vs Villanova and Marquette and PC and Georgetown- a nasty 12 hour travel nightmare on the way to Omaha last weekend etc etc). At 3-7 in the BIG EAST(tied for 9th with PC) you might say the season is toast. Not so fast!!

X is just 2 games out of 3rd and a mere 1 game out of 5th(a 4 way 5th place tie between Saturday night's Cintas opponent DePaul and 3 other teams). Home wins over DU and Creighton next Wednesday put the Muskies right in the middle of a multi-team cavalry charge for two NCAA at large bids behind front runners Villanova(10-0 in BE) and Marquette(8-2).

Coach Travis Steele gave his troops Monday and Wednesday off because of a mid-week bye. Practices were spirited Tuesday. Thursday and Friday. Ball security and defense have been top priorities. X is giving up a way too generous 78PPG during the losing streak. Live ball turnovers get converted into fast break baskets. The half court defense has yielded critical open three looks so better close-outs and consistent high hands against long range shooters have been emphasized. The proof of the practice pudding is in the game playing.

DePaul could be the start of a late resurgence? Too late for an NCAA bid? Maybe 3-7 in the A-10 or MCC would have been curtains for any postseason chances. Not from the BIG EAST platform!! The margin for error is ultra-slim now. 4 Cintas wins over DePaul-Creighton-Villanova and St Johns are close to mandatory. 2-2 in Road games at PC-Seton Hall-St Johns and Butler would add up to 9-9 heading to MSG for the BIG EAST Tournament. Hey-let's just get this one Saturday against the Blue Demons!!


DU is certainly improved (12-9 overall-4-6 BIG EAST 2-5 on the Road with nice wins at St Johns and Seton Hall and close away game defeats at Villanova and Providence. DU had a mid-week bye like XU. They beat PC in Chicago 67-55 last Saturday. The Blue Demons are burly and active inside. Two 6-9 Sophomores are taking over. Paul Reed has starred in BIG EAST games(16PPG-10 rebounds). He laid down 18 and 15 vs PC-totaled 21 and 14 at Seton Hall and hurt XU in Chicago(17 and 9). Reed shoots it well-gets to the FT line and just jumps over people. Butz is a bit crude offensively and is foul prone, but he produces(7PPG-5REBS).

6-8 grad transfer Femi Olujobi has been the 6th man recently and he's thriving(16PPG-BIG EAST). Soph PG Devin Gage has stayed healthy and is the prime ball handler-driver. Seniors Max Strus and Eli Cain are team anchors. Strus scored 32 at Cintas early last season.

Cain is a 40% 3 point sniper and streak scorer. Strus can be tied up offensively(8-32 from 3 last 4 games), but he still works the boards and hustles. X has to watch him like a hawk especially if they zone DePaul.

Neither team shoots consistently from three point range. Both rebound and post-up well. Expect a war in the paint with Tyrique and Zach and Naji vs Reed and Butz and Olujobi! Both teams will zone. Watch FT numbers and turnovers. More FTs and fewer Tos win this game.

DePaul is trying to exit the bottom of the BIG EAST where they've languished forever. X is trying to stay out of the basement and maybe sneak into postseason calculations with the cavalry coming over the hill this summer(5 2019 recruits plus 1 to 3 other newcomers TBD).

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