Andy Mac: Xavier Knocks off Butler at Hinkle
Andy Mac Williams,
Xavier TEAM 99 Report-Sunday Jan. 31st-Game #13-Muskies roared out of their 20 day COVID pause w/ a flourish winning impressively 68-55 at Butler. XU is now 11-2 overall and 4-2 BIGB EAST(solo 3rd-behind Villanova at 6-0 and Creighton at 9-3). Xavier maybe made it look too easy building a 47-27 lead early in 2nd half. Paul Scruggs then went to bench w/ 3 fouls and Butler rallied-cutting X's margin to 54-50 w/ about 7:30 left. Scruggs then took over scoring 11 straight Muskie points.
XU dug in defensively and held BU to 5 points down the stretch. Scruggs was playing in front of friends and family in INDY (24 points-7 rebounds-3 assists). He retained his usual clinical cool when Butler made their run.
"We stayed cool. I told the guys it's a game of runs. We kept our poise. Everybody was locked in on their personnel and the plays we needed to run."
Travis Steele predicted his offense would flow despite the long pause and XU pinged the ball-banging in 10 of 20 "3s". Starting guards Scruggs, Kunkel and Nate Johnson combined for 53 of 68 points-making 9 of 11 three point shot attempts.
Steele was worried about his defense though. Despite Butler's big comeback midway thru 2nd half Muskies did well defensively-allowing just 55 points(a stingy 0.86 points/possession).
Bulldogs struggled from "3"(just 5-25 w/ top sniper Jair Bolden going 2-9). Steele labelled "D" in 1st 25 minutes "tremendous". X went away from their system w/ Scruggs out(foul trouble) allowing Butler lay-ups and going for shot fakes.
Travis went w/ the VETS down the stretch and Xavier clamped down again. Special mention to Nate Johnson. He did his job knocking down HUGE '3s"(4-6 from distance-stopped BU run w/ corner "3" to put X ahead 57-50).
Nate also was primary defender on Bolden. Johnson is in NCAA Top 3 in 3 point FG%. Add in his penchant for steals and man-to-man lock down guarding-throw in his good size and rebounding ability and X has a very valuable asset.
Steele on return to play.
"Our guys were ready-locked in-fresh physically and mentally. We approached the pause the right way. The communication piece was critical in the pause. We self scouted BIGB EAST games on Fox and FS1 as a team getting to know the opposition and we talked about it. We were excited to play. We all know how fragile this is(w/ COVID). We still need to play faster. If we keep it simple and move the ball, we will score. We haven't really shot it that well yet in BIG EAST. On defense our system and rules are simple too. No need to gamble."
Free Throw shooting continues to be less than stellar(6-12 vs Butler-BIGS Freemantle and Carter went 0-6 FTs). Sooner or later FTs will cost Muskies a ball game but improvement is possible and the guards do knock FTs down.
Steele boiled his rotation down to 7 guys at Butler(certainly Colby Jones would have been included if available). It was a stressful road game at a hard place to win(Hinkle Fieldhouse).
Muskies are back on the road Wednesday Feb. 3rd-playing DePaul in Chicago(5PM EST on FS1). Creighton took DU lightly Saturday night at Wintrust and Blue Jays trailed w/ 3 minutes left-finally beating DU 69-62.
DePaul is playing hard. They hammer the glass and defend the "3" well. Muskies beware! No looking ahead to a Super Sunday game in Philadelphia vs Villanova.
We are 6 weeks away from Selection Sunday and 46 days away from the start of NCAA Tournament in Indiana. Xavier has 36 days left to play 14 BIG EAST games before BET in NYC.
Playing the full schedule looks improbable? BIG EAST may have to ratchet down to 18 maybe 16 games and/or just go w/ uneven GP and rank teams by winning %?
Muskie numbers are improving. 11-2 overall, 4-2 BIG EAST, 2-1 Road, #33 NET(best of season) w/ 1-1 Quad 1, 4-1 Quad 2, 6-0 Quad 3 and 4. No bad losses so far. Oklahoma and Toledo wins are really helping.
The Sooners beat Top 10s West Virginia, Kansas, Texas and Alabama in January. Toledo is #54 NET and leading the MAC.
Muskies are now up to 43 in KenPom and now have played 13 games(minimum for NCAA Tournament eligibility).
Sunday in BIG EAST-St Johns at Marquette(3:30 PM EST on BIG FOX). Both teams are 4-6 BE-tied for 7th. MU favored by 4.5 in Milwaukee. STJ has won 4 of last 5.
Saturday in BIG EAST. Villanova won handily at Seton Hall 80-72. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl scored 23. PG Collin Gillespie was the maestro(11 points-11 assists).
Georgetown rallied late coming off COVID pause-clipping PC 73-72 in DC. Friar star David Duke missed a late FT that would have forced OT. Creighton struggled but won at DePaul 69-62.