THOUGHTS ON THE MUSKIES STATUS!!
Andy Mac Williams,
Certainly-not good by Xavier standards in the short term working on a 6 game losing streak after Saturday night's late game meltdown 74-62 loss to DePaul at Cintas. 3-8 in the BIG EAST places XU 10th in a 10 team league. 8 of the 10 BE teams have below .500 records. Everybody has now played 11 games. Over the final 7 left maybe solid 3rd and 4th place teams will emerge behind front runners Villanova(10-1) and Marquette(9-2). Both those teams barring total collapse appear NCAA locks. Marquette ranked #12 on the NCAA's preliminary Top 16 Tournament seed list released Saturday. Most experts were shocked that Villanova was not included in that Sweet 16. IMHO 4 NCAA bids will go to BIG EAST teams.
Nobody among the lower 8 teams has been eliminated. The BIG EAST Tournament may be more important than ever in determining who goes. Can XU resurrect the season? The deck seems stacked against them with limited depth-no 4 year Senior leadership-suspect three point shooting and a 1-6 road record.
Skip Prosser authored and/or borrowed and repurposed a ton of memorable quotes. It was about Year 3 of his Wake Forest tenure and his Deacons were struggling in the ACC. The alums were bitching and the media was getting nasty. Skip put things in perspective for his staff and players and fan base. "Basketball seasons are made to enjoy-not endure. We're going to keep working hard and we are going to enjoy the process."
Travis Steele sort of said the same thing after the DePaul game. No excuses! We are working hard. It is a process and can be painful. Travis saw progress in half court defense. There was a toughness-a grinding-a willingness to fight through ball screens and stay down in a stance for the full shot clock.
DePaul's offensive rebounding and Xavier's turnovers leading to fast break buckets killed XU-not the defense. DU was +7 in points off turnovers, +16 in second chance points and +12 in fast break scoring. Add in a 15-2 edge in bench points and you understand what happened.
Xavier led by 8(51-43) w/ 10:26 left. The lead just melted away over the next 7 minutes(tied at 57 w/ 3:36 left). DePaul scored 12 straight points over the next 2:30. X turned it over 5 times and missed 3 shots. Empty possessions led to transition baskets.
DePaul finished what Xavier gift wrapped. It was bad offense-rushed drives-hero ball with players trying to do too much 1 on 3-semi-panic.
Hey-Steele is learning too. He's stayed focused on his 3 priorities 1)TEAM 97-the current group 2) His coaching and Support staff and 3) recruiting-the future of the program.
Travis was dealt an incomplete hand when he gladly accepted the job upon Chris Mack's departure for Louisville. No Seniors(Kaiser Gates turned pro). No impact freshmen.
The BIG EAST is awash in terrific Frosh who have made immediate noise. Villanova starts Saddiq Bey and Jahvon Quinnerly is back-up PG. Marquette starts Joey Hauser and Brendan Bailey is playing more and more. Georgetown starts James Akinjo and Mac McClung in the back court and Josh Leblanc at PF. PC starts David Duke and AJ Reeves at guard and Jimmy Nichols up front. Creighton's starting PG was Marcus Zegarowski(injured).Christain Bishop and Sampson Froling play off the bench. Anthony Nelson and Jared Rhoden are in Seton Hall's rotation.
The CORE FOUR is a great starting point,but more of everything is needed(and on the way)-especially dynamic guard play and outside shooting. Where would the Muskies be now if Travis had not been proactive in the grad transfer market landing Hankins, Castlin and Welage? For more context on Travis and what he inherited-please read Shannon Russell's detailed piece at the athletic.com and Adam Baum's Cincy Enquirer interview with Pete Gillen in Saturday's newspaper.
I've been around for all the coaching transitions. Gillen(1985) got 4 Senior starters plus Byron Larkin and played in the MCC. Prosser was left 4 Senior starters and went 14-0 in the MCC.He then brought in Posey and Williams and Brown and Lumpkin to make the jump to the A-10.
Thad Matta's 1st XU team include David West-Romain Sato and Lionel Chalmers. Seam Miller struggled for almost two seasons even with Doellman and Cage and Burrell and Brandon Cole. Mack began in the A-10 with a core of Tu Holloway-Jason Love-Dante Jackson and Jordan Crawford.
Scruggs,Marshall, Tyrique and Q are all terrific players, but none are Seniors and all except Q who started on an NCAA Elite 8 team and a #1 NCAA seed are playing much larger rolls. Q is expected to be a prime scorer now.
And the BIG EAST is an unforgiving no softee league. There are no LaSalle's or Fordam's or Duquesne's to fatten up on.
Travis makes no excuses. Adversity is part of the bargain. The season is not over. The Muskies are not going meekly into the off-season. Skip Prosser and Yoda believed in another axiom. "Do or Don't Do!! There is no try!!" Travis would agree.
Starting Wednesday night at Cintas vs Creighton the Muskies will do their best to do better(8:30PM-CBS SN) and Pete Gillen will be there courtside to chronicle the action as TV analyst.