Xavier has been waiting a week since their last game, a tough loss at Marquette (65-85). Hoyas fans were recently reminded that Marquette’s Markus Howard can make any defense look foolish, but Xavier hasn’t looked good on that end of the floor recently. With home losses to Creighton (65-77) and Seton Hall (71-83), and only one Big East win against St. John’s at the Cintas Center (75-67), Xavier is getting desperate for answers.
Naji Marshall and Paul Scruggs seem to be OK, but there are a lot of questions. The Musketeer faithful are certainly concerned with effort and there’s no telling what Coach Travis Steele might try to shake things up. A week of preparation and practice, along with the Hoyas’ propensity to play down after close losses, may be just what Xavier needs to get right.
Georgetown has often been on the wrong side of bulletin board motivation, especially where writers have had a week to challenge an opponent’s apparent issues rebounding and 50-50 balls. Desperate teams can be dangerous teams. Hopefully Ewing communicates that old adage to his seven competitors and the Hoyas hustle on the boards and strike quickly.
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Xavier is full of names you’ll recognize from past seasons’ battles , including four starters with lots of experience  — seniors Quentin Goodin and Tyrique Jones, and juniors Naji Marshall and Paul Scruggs. They’re surrounded, mostly, by transfers (Jason Carter from Ohio and Bryce Moore from Western Michigan) and freshmen (Zach Freemantle and KyKy Tandy), and the Musketeers have leaned heavily on their big four. That’s even more true after four-star recruit Dahmir Bishop left the program last week and transferred to Saint Joseph’s.
Marshall leads the team in scoring at 16.5 points per game. As always, he’s a handful at 6’7″, 220 pounds because he can put the ball on the floor and drive, he can pull up for jumpers, and he’ll even shoot the three if you give him the opportunity. Seton Hall came up with a solid gameplan to slow him down on Wednesday — they took away his left hand, challenged him at the rim, and held him to just 1-of-5 shooting on two-point shots. But he still had 15 points...
If Naji Marshall had any sort of Motor he’d be a lottery pick. Unfortunately, he doesn’t so he will be in the G-League!— Xavier Trump (@XavierTrump) January 16, 2020
Quentin Goodin is not doing well. His ORtg for the year is 85.1, he’s shooting 25% behind the arc, 39% inside it, and 62% from the line. He’s 2-29 from the floor since Villanova and zero for his last 20 behind the arc. This is bad.
Even his 23.9% assist rate no longer makes up for the volume of shots he is taking and missing. You know who is playing offense worse? KyKy Tandy. Tandy’s ORtg is 83.1 for the season. He’s shooting much better than Q behind the arc, but 17.6% inside it...
The Musketeers’ performance underscored some big questions. How can a team with four returning starters be so lost? Why has the defense regressed? ...
“I just think we’ve just got to play for the name on the front of our jersey.” Steele said it was his responsibility to find the team’s fight in the face of adversity and sort out effort issues...
Scruggs never stops attacking the rim and hustling for rebounds and has been a good practice player, too. He has claimed the coveted gold jersey three times in the past four weeks. That said, Scruggs often waits until second halves to impose his will (the Marquette game was due to those two fouls) and has been turnover-prone...
Marquette jumped to an early 17-8 before a quick bucket from Naji Marshall and a deep three pointer from Zach Freemantle cut the Musketeers deficit to six, 19-13 at 14:10. Quentin Goodin found Tyrique Jones under the basket after a Golden Eagle turnover at 12:44 to keep the deficit at six, 21-15. Naji Marshall connected for a deep three-pointer going into the second media of the half, 23-18 Marquette. Xavier held Marquette scoreless for three minutes, before Markus Howard connected on a fadeaway to end the drought, 25-18 at 9:31.
His team looks like it’d rather be somewhere else than on the basketball court. They’re not locking in and executing the gameplan they’ve been given. They’re also abandoning the system and giving up their identity at the first sign of adversity.
Wednesday night was the most glaring example, but these problems have been creeping in at different times this year, certainly since the start of Big East play. It shows up when the Musketeers don’t execute on the little details, like forgetting the emphasis of a gameplan and missing an open cutter only to end up with a tough jumper late in the shot clock. Or when they get pushed around and bullied on the glass. Or when they don’t have a sense of urgency and are beat to 50-50 balls.
Down: Xavier ... Most projections had the Musketeers as a top-three Big East team. Naji Marshall was seen as a player of the year candidate in the league. An NCAA Tournament was supposed to be a given. Instead, Xavier entered a critical part of its season toiling near the bottom of the conference at 1-4, trending towards the bubble.
Wednesday’s home meeting with Georgetown is as close to a must-win as there is in January, especially since the Musketeers will play seven of their last 12 league games on the road.
Steele’s penchant for getting publicly overwrought can’t help things. “Our backs are against the wall.’’ “It’s not panic time.’’ “Soul searching.’’ All in the past week. The coach comes off as doing a bit of plank-walking himself. He says there will be “changes’’ without saying what they’ll be.
A basketball team only has so many options. And if you bench an upperclassman, maybe you lose him for good. Regardless, teams that need to make changes in mid-January never really had things figured out in the first place. Yeah?
But the season isn’t over. The team is taking a deep breath and recalibrating. If you believe Travis Steele and don’t think he lapsed into regrettable coach speak, everything is up for change. One can hardly see Paul Scruggs or Tyrique Jones losing their spot, but it’s entirely plausible the rest of the lineup could change in a week of intensive practice.
Steele himself has some changes to make. His team came out flat and surrendered the game early in the second half against Marquette and has been routinely getting scorched by big runs. The defense, once so solid, has collapsed in on itself completely. Both of those are things that could be addressed with coaching.
As far as Xavier’s defense goes ... [t]heir biggest problems appear to be 1) turnovers and 2) rebounding. As a whole this season, Xavier has not been a good turnover defense, popping a ball free on about 20% of possessions. That’s essentially average. In their four Big East games, that’s down five points to just 15% of the time. At about 70 possessions per game, that’s about three extra possessions per game for their opponent that ends in a shot instead of a turnover. Specifically, Xavier isn’t generating steals...
On the rebounding front, they’ve gone from allowing teams to get to 28% of their misses to 32% of them.
How big is Wednesday's game for @XavierMBB?— Adam Baum (@AdamJBaum) January 21, 2020
Travis Steele said he reminded his older players how one game can change everything.
Last season that game was at home against Creighton and it ended a 6-game losing streak. pic.twitter.com/UzF5SclVuL
“I don’t know who will start for us yet,” Steele said Tuesday at his pre-game press conference. “We opened that up to our Xavier Way (the Musketeers’ practice statistics). The top five guys on Xavier Way are gonna be the starters tomorrow. So that’s to be determined as far as who’s earned that. I’m not giving anybody any spot. They have to earn that right. We’ve competed a lot since the Marquette game and you’re gonna see a big difference hopefully ... you better see a difference on the defensive end and on the backboard.”
The Hoyas are allowing 1.09 points per trip in Big East play, worst in the league, and unless that changes, it will be hard for them to shake out of this win-then-lose pinball inconsistency that is the mark of all long-term bubble teams...
After a rough start to league play, including home losses to Seton Hall and Creighton, both of which were good opportunities, the concern is that Xavier is going to tread the team sheet mediocrity waters until it slips all the way off the page. The Musketeers are only just hanging on as it is.
Steele said Tyrique Jones has been dominant since the Marquette game in practice. He's got the gold jersey. Hard to imagine he won't be starting tomorrow night— Adam Baum (@AdamJBaum) January 21, 2020
Jamari Sibley is going to be an instant impact player for Georgetown next season. I tell you what 2020 point guard Dante harris is very underrated. Good commit by Hoyas— Leader Johnson (@WriterLeader247) January 21, 2020