MUSKIES MAKE IT 5 STRAIGHT Ws at St Johns!! Numbers Looking Up!!
By Andy Mac Williams, 3/1/2019

I'm somewhat skeptical of analytics. My perception is Xavier usually gets screwed (undervalued) by the RPI, KenPom etc. The Muskies always have faired better in Sagarin, but nobody cares about those numbers. RPI and KenPom are the data enemies I know. This NET thing is new and I guess it's the NCAA's way of better managing the power ratings market-standardizing the methodology and making the whole process more transparent. I'm proudly Muskie-centric. I cherry pick stats to make me feel better about Xavier's place in the College Basketball universe.

I was not happy w/ the NET when XU won 4 straight w/ 3 Quadrant 1 victories in the mix and advanced just 24 spots from 107 to 83 prior to Xavier at St Johns Thursday evening. The eye test(me watching way too many BE games with and without XU involved) told me that the Muskies were and are a better team than any team in the BIG EAST other than Marquette and Villanova).

Sunday X WAS better than Nova considerably(66-54). X-Marquette in a couple weeks on a neutral floor at Madison Square Garden would be a WAR, I'm thinking. Any way Friday morning in the wake of the Muskie win in Queens I am liking the NET(liking-not trusting). Xavier was rewarded for a near wire-to-wire Quad 1 double digit(84-73) road "W" with a nifty 12 slot bump up in NET(83 to 71). That's more like it!!

XAVIER-ST JOHNS NOTES:

XU controlled tempo against the run and gun volatile streaky Redstorm. With a short bench(Elias Harden suspended) and a clear inside advantage, Xavier walked it up when they were not pressed-passed it patiently-killed STJ on the glass(38-22 rebound edge w/ 14 offensive boards) and zoned a lot defensively frustrating the Johnnies and bating them into settling for jump shots.

X stubbornly stuck w/ their disciplined game plan and kept STJ out of the fast break. X hoisted some early threes w/ St Johns packing in the "D" and it worked forcing STJ to spread out. X attacked almost exclusively especially protecting and expanding the lead after half time.

St Johns kept spurting. XU stayed cool and patient for the most part and rebuilt lead after lead The Redstorm melted down at home(3 technical fouls-1 flagrant 1 foul-putting Xavier in the bonus w/ over 8 minutes left allowing the Muskies to salt away the win with room to spare.

Naji Marshall continued to dominate(career high 31 points-5 made three pointers for the 3rd game in the win streak-10 for 12 FTs-6 rebounds-3 steals). Tyrique Jones and Zach Hankins owned the glass and the paint(22 points total-17 rebounds).Ty was credited w/ 2 blocked shots. The stat man screwed him. He had 5 or more.

Hankins now makes it the CORE FIVE for XU. His team play-inside passing-defensive rebounding-ball screen defense and second effort are all much improved. Zach seems bought in and much more comfortable now as part of the group effort.

Roles are well defined now for TEAM 97. Guards Gooden and Scruggs combined for 19 points-keyed the constantly changing Muskie defense(packline to 1-3-1 zone to 2-3 to 3-2) and survived against STJ's desperation press.

Kyle Castlin came up very large filling up Harden's minutes. He played 27 scoring 6 points in the second half-making all 4 FTs and scoring a key stick back 2 when STJ had cut the Muskie lead to 58-55 w/ 10 minutes left. Kyle also dug out 5 rebounds.

Ryan Welage found open space to drill two 3 pointers. Jonas Hayes did a great scouting job.

The Scout Team(grad assistants Sam Frayer and Bo Burkhart and players Leighton Schrand, Myles Hanson and Zak Swetye) worked hard to simulate St Johns' actions. Give Schrand extra credit. He became Shamorie Ponds and has mimicked Myles Powell and Marcus Howard recently.

Most importantly the players worked and absorbed the scouting points and executed well in the game. Leadership has emerged. Q and Tyrique are captains now vocally and by their performance. Castlin is the Top + player on the team.

MORE NUMBERS:

Xavier improves to 16-13 overall and moves into a 3rd place tie with St Johns at 8-8. 4 Quadrant 1 wins are now booked with a possible 5th at Butler Tuesday(6PM from Indy-FS1). X has 4 BE road wins now. The final BE regular season game is Saturday March 9th at Cintas against St Johns(5PM-BIG FOX).

The Johnnies play this Sunday at DePaul(Noon EST-FS1) then get a mid-week bye before traveling to Cincy a week from Saturday.

Xavier does not play this weekend giving them an off day plus 3 practices to prep for their Tuesday trip to Butler.

BU(6-9 BE) faces a crucial game at Villanova this Saturday March 2nd(Noon-BIG FOX). Butler IMHO needs to sweep their final 3 regular season games to avoid a BE Tourney play-in game at MSG on 3-13 and have any shot at an NCAA at large bid.

With 10 or more BIG EAST losses Butler or Creighton(also 6-9) or PC(6-10) or DePaul(5-10) could make the NCAA Tourney,but only w/ the BE automatic bid meaning probably 4 wins in 4 days at MSG 3-13 through 3-16.

XU at 8-8 can write its own script by finishing 10-8 in the BIG EAST w/ wins over Butler and STJ. The Muskies sew up solo 3rd place in the BIG EAST that way and insure themselves a first round BE Tourney bye on 3-13. They then play in a 3 seed-6 seed Quarterfinal on Thursday 3-14 at MSG.

10-8 means a lot of work. Butler is 11-4 at Hinkle w/ a stacked back court including star Kamar Baldwin-a deep bench and sniper quality three point shooting. St Johns will be desperate to get 3rd w/ their NCAA hopes on the line.

10-8 is a magic number though. Since the birth of the NEW BIG EAST(2013-2014 season) 12 of 13 BIG EAST teams that finish 10-8 in the regular season before NYC have earned NCAA at large bids. Only St Johns in that first year attained 10-8 and failed to make the NCAA field. It's certainly no guarantee considering the BIG EAST is off a bit in overall rankings this year plus the NET is a wild card factor plus somebody other than Marquette or Villanova or XU might steal the BIG EAST automatic bid, but I really like Xavier's NCAA chances at 10-8 and solo 3rd going into NYC.

The CORE 4 have all played at MSG and in high pressure NCAA games. Hankins likes and appreciates the BIG stage. It's all fun speculation and IMHO stuff.

X is well set-up for Butler with plenty of rest and practice time and short travel. Same holds for the Senior(or rather Grad Transfer Day at Cintas vs St Johns).

It's all good after rebounding from 3-8, a 6 game losing streak and DOA-RIP talk less than 3 weeks ago. As Skip Proser said so eloquently when the vultures were circling at Wake Forest 15 years ago (reference my story on this platform(2-10-2019) titled "Thoughts on the Muskies Status" "Basketball seasons are made to be enjoyed-not endured." I'm having fun. I hope you are!!!




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