By Andy Mac Williams, 2/19/2019

No question-Xavier is playing much better-riding a two game winning streak anchored by defense( 0.88 points/possession in victories over Creighton and Providence) and unselfish patient ball sharing offense. Naji Marshall has stepped up as a late game "Go To" closer(59 points total last 3 games). Quentin Gooden is playing like himself again at PG. BIGS Tyrique Jones and Zach Hankins are working well together inside and Paul Scruggs is contributing all over the box score. Mix in better bench play and improved 3 point shooting and you have the makings for a late season surge by the Muskies. The next step may be tougher though(at Seton Hall-Wednesday evening-7PM-CBS SN). XU is just 1-4 at the Rock in Newark, New Jersey through five New BIG EAST trips.

Seton Hall has gone to the NCAA Tournament the last 3 seasons under Coach Kevin Willard and the Pirates are headed for a 4th straight NCAA. Check out their resume! 16-9 overall does not knock your socks off, but SHU has notched strong non-conference wins over Miami(Fla), #5 Kentucky at MSG and BIG TEN schools Maryland and Rutgers. They're 7-6 in the BIG EAST(tied for 3rd with St Johns) and the Pirates have been hot lately-winning 4 of the last 5 in the league with the lone loss coming at Butler 70-68 over two weeks ago. Since that close call at Hinkle, SHU has beaten Creighton twice and they clobbered Georgetown 90-75 in Newark last Wednesday.

The Pirates play well at their Rock in front of 10,000/game(9-3 overall at home-5-1 in BIG EAST home games). They specialize in late game rallies featuring 6-2 Junior sniper Myles Powell(24.6 PPG over the last 5-with 18 made threes-30 for 31 FTs-5 rebounds/game and 14 steals). Powell works hard off the ball to get free. He's been a pain vs Xavier(26-30 and 25 points at Cintas).

On Jan. 2nd in Cincy Powell dragged the Pirates back from a 10 point 2nd half hole in an 80-70 SHU victory. Xavier crushed it inside early(Zach Hankins 18 points before the half), but Powell kept sticking shots. The Muskies ran into 2nd half turnover issues. Tyrique Jones was handcuffed with foul trouble plus Seton Hall 7 footer Romero Gil blocked several Tyrique shots close to the rim. X could have won. SHU played well at the end.


The Pirates lost 4 veteran starters to graduation(Angel Delgado-the rebounder, Desi Rodriquez-the serial scorer, Khadeen Carrington-the lefty PG and Ish Sanogo-the muscle inside). Coach Willard might be BIG EAST Coach of the Year reloading so quickly. 6-4 PG Quincy Mc Knight from Sacred Heart has fit right in. He keyed Sunday's 81-75 come-from-behind win at Creighton with 16 pints and 6 steals. 6-6 Sophomore wing Myles Cale has blossomed(22 points at Creighton).He's versatile offensively now with better 3 point numbers and takes some pressure off #1 scoring option Myles Powel. 6-7JR forward Michael Nzei rebounds and defends reliably.

The surprise is 6-11 Sandro Mamukeleshvili. He is now a 30 minute man who scores inside and out-rebounds-runs the floor and defends. Two frosh help off the bench. Back-up PG Anthony Nelson and hard playing 6-7 forward Jared Rhoden. 7 footer Gil has been slowed by an ankle injury. We may see him more because of his success against the XU BIGS in Game #1 at Cintas.

Syracuse transfer Taurean Thompson(6-9) apparently is in Coach Willard's dog house(4 minutes-last 3 games). Seton Hall changes defenses a lot. They use a trapping 1-2-2 three quarter court press. The Hall likes to run especially at home at the Rock. They're always looking for open threes off the fast break with Powell and Cale spotting up.

Willard runs a blizzard of plays in the half court. SHU does not impress you with wildly efficient stats. They just know how to win and close out close games. Powell is special and a killer and he's more than a three point threat. He drives fearlessly and gets to the FT line(30 for 31 over the last 5 games) and 87% for the season. The Pirates do not beat themselves with turnovers. They are a low fouling group. Poor FT shooting cost them 2 or 3 wins each season-not this year so far.


And they need to be!! The Hall is a tough out in Newark. Xavier practiced two hours crisply with focus at Cintas Tuesday before their mid afternoon flight to New Jersey. The focus was on transition defense-stopping the ball higher to give Muskie BIGS a chance to get set and protect the rim. A frequent ball protection drill involves 3 defenders chasing 2 players for 30 seconds in the half court.

Travis Steele harped on ball security-asking for no b.s. turnovers and insisting players "not lose their minds" when pressured. Bounce passes are being emphasized and X is using them much more in games. Everybody participated full go Tuesday. Obviously, a win over Seton Hall on the road would be huge. It's an NCAA NET Quadrant 1 victory which would move the Muskies up considerably in the power ranking metrics.

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