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Regarding Xavier's latest big comeback, bad announcing, and a balanced team with tournament aspirations.
What just happened was awesome; what comes next might be pivotal.
We look back at an ugly win and dissect the week ahead, with special attention being paid to the Crosstown Shootout on the horizon.
Was fatigue a factor in the Bahamas? The immediate future, Justin Martin, fixing the issues, tattoos, and who should have the ball in crunch time. We discuss it all and leave some space for you as well.
The Conversation is mostly one-sided as Joel discusses James Farr, things that will trouble Xavier down the line, and the Battle4Atlantis.
Xavier finally has depth, Dee Davis looks strong in one game, a tremendous recruiting class if it fits, and some discussion on whether this team has NCAA tournament potential.
Freshman guards and pushing the pace, Stainbrook and Martin, and what on earth is going on at the free throw line (again)?
Go big or go small, Randolph and Richards, trying to figure out how MAC stats translate to the new Big East, and coming close to saying this is a very good roster.
A holiday bumped it back a day, but here is the first Sunday Conversation of the 2013-2014 Xavier basketball season. Just how good can this backcourt be? Is Myles Davis ready? Will Dusty Baker ever work again?
The best day of the year is finally here. Xavier isn't a participant this year, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't watch.
In which we dispense with the conversating and instead just have a raging argument on a public forum. Do you want Xavier in the NIT or not? Also, steamships.
Other teams to watch, carrying the load as a freshman, and whether liking a Duke player is ever allowed.
Sunday conversation takes a bit more of a VCU related twist but we also touch on needing two more wins, at large talk, Memphis, and Gus Johnson calling soccer games.
The Duquesne worst case scenario win, coaching and inconsistent play, and feeding the post.
The Richmond game, trouble on the road, and whether there is any reason for hope going forward.
Xavier crashed from 4-0 and moving up the S-Curve to 4-2 and needing the automatic bid in the space of one bad week. In that week Jeff Robinson played hard once, Dee Davis got exposed, and the Atlantic 10 went crazy.
A 4-0 start has us looking at the S-Curve, talking about VCU's defense, and breaking down exactly what Xavier has to do to have a chance the rest of the way.
In the last three days Xavier has equaled their win total from the month of December. Despite Dee Davis missing a game and various other hurdles, this team is 2-0 in conference.
Does no offense mean Xavier needs to consider a new defense? Is there any hope for the conference season?
Brad's on the road, I'm on my deathbed, but we're still dead set on bringing you only the best in Xavier-related banter to you, our beloved readers, on New Year's Day. Please enjoy the dispatches resulting from my fevered mind and his commitment to distracted driving. (Joel)
Joel: First order of business: condolences to JMart, who received word a few hours before the game Saturday that he had lost a loved one. Not much to say beyond the fact that that sucks.
Brad: Second order of business: is this season over? I'd like a reason for hope and I usually rely on you for that. I can't find one though, because we've been complete and utter trash recently.
Joel: We have, but consider this: we play really good defense. That makes it all the more sad that we can't score in the half court at all, but it's not nothing. I think Coach Mack is smart enough to know we're not a dynamic scoring team. As I see it, we have two hopes. The first is a miracle: Semaj develops a jumper, Red becomes Skip To My Lou, Jeff Robinson grows a pair, et cetera. The other is that we shift gears, rebuild the second season around defense, and try to win ugly like The Special One at Chelsea. I don't see any other way. We're not deep enough to run - heck, we cramp at our current pace, we have exactly zero guys with a multi-faceted offensive game, and we're prone to huge scoring droughts. The only thing we can do is sit down and go for more kills than Cecil B. DeMille.
You love defense! This is great news for you!
Brad: First miles of the year are down. Wasn't fun to see that big zero in the yearly total this morning. I love defense, but we aren't winning with it. We play really good numbers defense. What I mean by that is that our fg% allowed, defensive efficiency, and those stats look good. Unfortunately, we don't get big stops when we need them, we aren't real dogs down there. UC, much as I hate them, plays the kind of defense that wins games. They can get ugly and just crush the life out of people. I thought we could after Butler, but recently we have not closed games. All the defense in the world doesn't matter when you either can't score (Wofford) or can keep the other team off the glass when it matters (UT). If winning ugly is how we do it, we need some serious work on the killer instinct.
I saw that you went with the Tu quote as your favorite moment of 2012. I have to go with Mark Lyons against UD in the A10 tournament. I could look it up, but I like remembering it my way. I want to say he went 7-2 or 10-2 when we absolutely had to have that game. After one bucket he spun out and came down the near sideline just being all Mark Lyons. That's my favorite moment of 2012.
Joel: There were some great moments to choose from. Tu over Cooley was sweet. Dee's two monster threes in the first half against Lehigh cemented my crush on him. Heck, just hearing our names called on Selection Sunday was fun.
Unfortunately, we also managed to go an entire calendar year with the same basic problems. We stop feeding the post after about fifteen minutes. We look borderline disinterested for long stretches of play. Jeff Robinson. Our offense stagnates in the half court. I lay this mostly at the feet of Coach Mack, with one cavaet: has he ever had a season where he hasn't been hamstrung by personnel issues? His first year, Miller left late, taking his recruiting class with him. Robinson was a bust, but McKenzie's career was derailed before it ever had a chance to get started. The next year, the Latham/Canty class was a huge miss. The year after that, he brought Dez and Dee in but lost Reynolds and Davis to reclassification. This year, he lost Dez and Cheeks but added Semaj and Farr. Meanwhile, Cantino lost a year of eligibility because of a stupid NCAA rule and Reynolds and Davis - who should sophomores right now - were fairly arbitrarily ruled ineligble by the NCAA. Now, some of that stuff is Mack's fault, but a lot of it is well outside his control. As a result, we still haven't gotten to see what he can do with a full squad.
Brad: All that other stuff pales in compare to how painful this offense is to watch. One entire week to prepare for Tennessee and we lay a complete and total egg. That's nothing but a coaching staff issue.
But back to the 2012 stuff, because that's topical! Worst moment? I say the ridiculous dismissal of Dez. That was a literal miscarriage of justice of the highest degree. No logical person can defend that decision. I'm getting angry just thinking about it. We threw away the most talented player we've ever had because the administrative staff is insanely short sighted.
On the court: I'd say Tu missing the free throw against Baylor. It was an improbable comeback and still wasn't likely to happen, but he deserved to go out better than.that. I don't know, maybe the tragic hero coming up short in the last desperate comeback is better story, but it was gutting to watch.
Joel: Off the court, it doesn't get worse than getting rid of Dez. An alpha male in college may or may not have been intimate with a girl who came onto him? Get out. The fact that her story changed throughout the whole thing and there wasn't even enough evidence to pursue a case just rub salt in the wound. Can you imagine the athleticism with Dez and Semaj in the open court? Let's move on before I make myself sad.
On the court, the worst moment for me was opening the conference season with a loss, I believe it was away to La Salle. After going 29-3 in conference the last two years after identical 8-5 starts, I had just assumed that X would be X once A-10 play arrived. That loss was really the first alert that the season was in trouble that I couldn't ignore.
What's more topical than the present, though!? Tell me, Coach Wooden, what your brilliant offensive game plan for Tennessee would have been and how you would have implemented it in a week. Keep in mind that UT is one of the top defenses in the nation. Be prepared to support your decisions in sentence form.
Brad: You want a sentence? Feed the post. I'm aware they are a great defense, I don't dispute that, but 10:14 without a field goal? Give me a break, you cannot be defending that.
Joel: They're a great defense facing a bad offense. Feed whom on the post? You wanted more of Taylor's 4-11 or Philmore's 4-10? Perhaps you thought Stenger could created his own shot against a 270-pound defender, or you wanted to see JRob out there? It's easy to point out that the offense sucked (sucks), but the solutions on this roster are limited. If one or two guys aren't playing up to par, we're likely going to look dreadful.
Brad: Yes, I wanted more touches for Taylor. The problem is that our offense is entirely predicated on guards getting shots, so even when the ball goes in no one reacts to it, cuts, moves, or does anything. What's the deal? The offense needs massive amounts of work.
Joel: I've stumped for more touches for Trav in the past, but then he rewarded me with 4-11 the other night. You and I could sit here and wave them at each other for the rest of the week, but the fact remains that we have zero players who are consistent enough to be relied on right now. When you don't know what you're getting on any given time out, it's hard to set up a game plan. Let's feed Semaj? Maybe he goes 1-10, misses six FTs, and turns the ball over half a dozen times. Feed Trav? Maybe he shoots 4-11 or has trouble catching the ball (which he has had). Get it to JMart? Maybe he drifts listlessly through the game, making you wonder if he's sure he is supposed to be on the court. All of those guys have the potential to take over a game; they also have the potential to submarine it.
I don't want to be all doom and gloom, so consider this: at this point last year, we had lost 4 of our last 5 (much like we have right now) and were about to drop that demoralizing conference opener to La Salle. There were questions around the squad regarding if we would ever get our mojo back. Things look bad right now, but they looked bad right then, too. We've got a road trip to Wake tomorrow followed by a home game against Temple that KenPom gives us a coin toss chance to win. Pick those up and take care of business against GW and suddenly we're 10-5 (2-0). Other than UC, we haven't been out of any game this year. Despite our problems, I still have faith that this team can do something better than most expected four months ago.
What were you favorite moments of the calendar year, and what are your hopes for the rest of this season with two months' worth of information now in hand? Tell us your thoughts in the comments section.
That's all there is to this. To facilitate family revelry and give you something to read on the holiday proper, we will run this week's Sunday Conversation on Tuesday, New Year's Day. Please returned to your regularly scheduled programming, already in progress.
This week wasn't full of banner efforts from the boys in blue (or green). While the Sandy Hook Elementary tribute showed a classy side to Xavier off the court, the on the court product just slipped farther from contention for the all important NCAA tournament. First, a chance for a good win was spurned as the offense, and Semaj Christon, disappeared in the second half against UC. Yesterday, a bad loss hit the books in the form of a complete disaster against a Wofford Terriers team that should have been nothing but a morale booster.
Brad: What in the name of everything holy was that? Dad is fired up about Coach Mack right now and I'm not sure I'm the one to talk him back from the edge. Good Lord, I've never seen a team capitulate under so little impetus from their opponent.
Joel: I don't know. I'm trying to come up with a defense of that display from any angle, and I can't. Trav clearly came ready to dominate, and they clearly couldn't stop him. If they double, kick out and then repost. Why Mack didn't cycle the roster for someone who would feed Taylor is beyond me. If the people out there won't look inside, find someone who will. He's the coach, and that's on him.
I want to take this opportunity to apologize for every good thing I've ever said about Jeff Robinson.
Brad: I still can't get over that foul. Watch it again and watch Redford react [Brad dropped to both knees with his hands on his head in disbelief]. Also note who goes over to console Robinson. That would be no one. He's a hanger on that is sucking time away from someone that could do something with it (Stenger).
Philmore is worrying me too. All that popcorn muscle is nice, but get in there and move someone with it son. He lingers around looking like every other big dude that is scared of contact. This team is infuriating, and that's before you factor in the brain lock the coaching staff had.
Joel: Remember when we fed it to Butler and beat Purdue on the road? Was that even this same team? I checked, it was. We know the talent is there, it's just a question of getting it in play. I've identified three things I find the most troublingly fixable and fixed percentages to the likelihood of each happening.
1) Feed the post. Trav can score, and we've worked inside-out to some effect when we've been bothered to go in. I also watched this same coaching staff let Big Kenny get ignored for almost his whole career. If we feed him down the stretch against Baylor, we win. Different cast here, but the same script. Maybe 20% chance this happens, which is a shame, because it's an easy and obvious fix.
2) Find Semaj a jump shot. Christon is so explosive off the bounce, but teams are starting to mitigate that by playing a mile off and daring him to shoot. He can't. Even with that much space, he's still finding his way to the rim. If only he could hit free throws... Anyway, a player can work himself into being a better shooter, but that's hard to do during the season. I'll give this one a 10% chance of success. He need to lock himself in the gym this summer.
3) Stop being so stupid. Wofford scored too many easy buckets on back cuts and simple motions off the ball. Martin had his head in the clouds. Robinson happened. Surprisingly, I think there's hope here. Stenger, Taylor, and Redford have all played fairly intelligently, and Dee and Semaj have it in them. Give me those five for a spell and I think we have an 80% chance of not doing something to shoot ourselves in the butt. The percentage drops with every substitution.
Obviously, there are other problems, but those three are the most obviously harmful to me.
Brad: It's the stupid one that bothers me. All teams have talent deficiencies in places, and we knew this team had more than most. It's the fact that we just keep putting ourselves in places to lose that bothers me. This was a simple win. It was never going to be sexy, but it was just a walk to 8-3. Instead we find ourselves hoping Christon makes free throws because we are too dense to feed the post. We just stupided ourselves out of one of the only gimmies on the schedule.
Joel: Now we head to Tennessee. I haven't followed them too closely, but I recall from the offseason writeup that they have some talent in the paint. If we don't figure it out on the perimeter, we're going to get our taints handed to us.
I actually agree with Mack that this team has a high ceiling. Unfortunately, it also has an extremely low floor. I'm most worried right now about JMart. Even with Taylor playing well, Martin is the key. He's literally the only player on the team who can score from behind the arc or off the bounce. Too many more listless 2-8s out of him with no defense and we're hoping for an invite to the CBI. You think we can go .500 in the conference?
Brad: Can we? Yes. Will we? A week ago I would have said yes, but now I don't know. We just don't look good right now. Coach Mack called it disheartening, and he was right. For one, you have a senior committing a foul whose stupidity cannot be overstated. What hurts more is that we were even there. Wofford scored six in nine minutes in the second half and won.
Remember at the start of the year you were talking about the ball moving more and everyone being involved? Well now Semaj is very close to being a ball stopper but he doesn't finish plays off. We are watching last year's offense, just without the talent.
Joel: That's what worries me. Is it something Coach Mack is doing? It must be. Is the offense he teaches really "stand around and watch a guy dribble off a ballscreen and run into the middle for an improbable attempt at scoring?" Didn't he see how much more smoothly it went when we dumped it in to Trav and let him go to work? I think Trav has a good feel for when to kick out, but we do him a disservice when we never dump it back in. I'm just frustrated that we are the more talented team losing because we're less cohesive and worse at basketball. Didn't the shoe used to be on the other foot there?
Brad: I'm concerned it is the offense. We seem to run a set to get someone the ball and then just sort of wait. What is even more concerning is that we all saw what needed done last night. You, me, and Dad are all calling for the repost, but the coach isn't. That fix isn't some bit of basketball nuance that DVR and hindsight were able to dredge up. This isn't one of those nitpick the coach things either; this is a glaringly obvious switch we just didn't make.
Joel: Are we that smart? Probably not. So apparently it was fairly obvious. More concerningly, Randolph scouts as being "too focused on scoring." Are we setting up for more of the same going forward? I hope not; it's less fun to watch, even when it works.
Brad: Maybe he gives us someone with the ability to win a game even after we crap it away. Tu could do that, Lyons did from time to time, no one did yesterday.
The big news this week was the realignment (again) of the Big East. The so called Catholic Seven [Georgetown, DePaul, St. John's, Marquette, Seton Hall, Villanova, and Providence] have officially announced their intention to leave what was once the marquee basketball conference in the nation. Xavier looms as the biggest name that could break allegiance with another conference to join the basketball-centric conference that has been proposed. Closer to home, it is Shootout week. Come 7pm on Wednesday, the Musketeers will take on their arch-enemy afer a 10 day layoff.
Joel: So... what are your thoughts on the Catholic Seven coming after Xavier?
Brad: First blush I don't love it. The A10 has been great to Xavier and has put together a solid conference.I guess I'm a bit of a fundamentalist on this. I wouldn't mind seeing the A10 shed lesser lights though, so I'm apparently not totally opposed to some realignment.
Joel: I'm with you on the A-10. I love what we have here. We know that we're going to have a challenging out-of-conference schedule almost every year to bolster the resume. We know that we're going to have 10-12 conference wins except in down years. We'll have the occasional "bad win" kind of game against Fordham or GW, and we'll have some good resume games against VCU, Saint Louis, and Butler and occasionally Dayton, Richmond, and St. Joe's. By the time March rolls around, we'll almost always be positioned to at least have a chance to play our way into the tournament. But...
The landscape is unstable. Realignment has been seismic in the past few years, we've just avoided it by not having a football team. Our number one priority should be to find somewhere stable where we can avoid all that. If the A-10 wants to rededicate itself to being a great basketball conference, I'm all for that. If not, I'm open to exploring the Catholic Seven's offer. What we don't want to do is hold fast in the A10 and then have some of the other teams at the top bolt, leaving us in the new CAA.
The A-10 meeting this week will tell us a ton. I hope they come out of it saying we're all together and the dead wood at the bottom has to either improve or get cut. I think we can all agree that X is positioned well to pursue a favorable outcome in any event.
Brad: I get the stability argument but it seems like the classic girl who cheats on someone else to be with you. If the Catholic Seven (Catholic 7? Don't tell that business comp lady, but I like it better with the numeral) are willing to leave to leave the Big East, especially when teams like DePaul haven't been there that long are they really going to be more stable? What about when the next great offer comes along?
Right now, we play an awesome non-con, a solid conference, and with some luck can be a 3 seed. What, exactly, do we have to gain here?
Joel: Well, lots and lots of American dollars (Les Grossman voice) leaps to mind. The Catholic VII were basically marginalized in their own league by an agenda that was slave to football. Given the chance to get out of there before the basketball product became completely worthless, they jumped at it. This isn't the girl who cheats to be with you, it's the girl who dumps her abusive boyfriend and then starts dating you at a later point in time.
Don't get me wrong, I love what we have in the A10. If I could make certain that it wasn't going anywhere, I'd like that in yesterday. But the A10 hasn't exactly been the model of stability (see, for instance, the fact that it has way more than ten teams), so I think it's at least worth considering the Catholic schools' offer. Best-case scenario in my mind? Temple chickens out of the Big East move and Xavier uses this opportunity to leverage long-term stability in the conference and commitment to either actually making an effort or leaving the league from some of the perennial bottom-feeders.
Brad: That's a valid point. The Big East has, idiotically, destroyed its own best event in the name of a sport in which it barely competes. Does anyone actually care about Big East football as compared to Big East basketball? Yes, clearly some people do, but it boggles the mind. Think of what we are all losing here. You've got, just recently, the UConn/Kemba Walker run, the six OT game, and that very first day of the conference tournament, when you could turn on ESPN at noon and know that now the big boys had joined the action. We used to big screen in Criminology class to watch that instead of having class. All that is gone so we can get more Rutgers football? Stupid.
Joel: No question they crapped the bed on this one. I like the A-10, but wouldn't you love to see (spitballing here, take with a pound of grains of salt) X, the Catholic Seven, UD, Butler, Saint Lou, and VCU descending on MSG for a weekend-long tournament? That would be good television.
Brad: It would. To be honest though, I'd miss playing La Salle, UMass, URI, and teams like that. I would get over it, to be sure, when I saw Xavier pulling blue chip recruits and staying in the top 15, but I'm not certain an allegiance switch guarantees that. In short, I don't see why we do this unless there is an absolute certainty it puts us in a better position than we are now. Even if we become the C7 plus some, could we not have the occasional down year like this one?
Joel: Yeah, I'd miss those guys until we were playing St. John's at 2pm on a Saturday on ESPN. Nothing is certain, though. It's a tough decision for the Xavier administration to make but also a great opportunity. I think X is at the top of the list for the Catholic Seven; staying or going, that's leverage.
Shifting gears now, this team will be on the back of a ten-day layoff when they tip for the Crosstown Shootout. Does that help or hurt them?
Brad: Hurts, no question. All the film study in the world won't help when you haven't played a game in anger in the better part of two weeks. I didn't like the gap when the schedule came out, I like it even less now. It's hard to do anything well after a ten day break from it.
Joel: I think it helps. We've got JMart back, which is a huge factor. We were ten kinds of stagnant without him against Kent State until Red shot us out of it. Even with JMart, we weren't exactly clicking on either end of the court. Ten days off gives Semaj a chance to rest his legs, Taylor and Stenger some time to recharge their batteries, and the training staff a chance to find JRob a working set of testicles. We're going to need to find the form that we had against Butler. Ten days off gives the whole thing a chance to reset a bit.
Brad: Good game on ESPN.
Joel: Crazy finish brewing. No foul?
Brad: No, there was, it just, like the timeout, went uncalled.
Brad: Anyway, all things being equal, I hate the time off. You're right though, we need the rest and the recharge. We just cannot afford to come out flat or rusty, or we will get destroyed. That @BearcatPalinFan on Twitter is a hack, but raises the very valid concern that we get absolutely nuked on Wednesday. Of course, that was the case for Lenny Brown, Lloyd Price, Kevin Frey, or any other number of games when UC was overrated.
First off, we are aware that today isn't Sunday. The Kent State game precluded much conversing on Sunday because we had to watch at different times due to church obligations. I watched the game much later at night than it actually happened, so Joel's Facebook inbox took the brunt of my frustration and then what turned into a much longer string of discussion, Brad Redford's amazing six minutes.
Brad: How do I know I'm awesome? I just used penumbra in an article about a basketball game. Have you ever seen a better six minutes of basketball than what Redford played from 14:28 to 8:48 tonight? Nine points, a rebound, two assists, and a game completely changed. That was amazing. He knew it to, after that two dribble flick of the wrist three. That shot came straight out of a dribble and he just banged it without a second thought.
Joel: I saw Reggie score eight in nine seconds against the Knicks in the playoffs, so that was part of a fairly solid stretch of play. As much as we point out that Redford is fairly one-dimensional on offense, he used that dimension to full effect last night. Their entire roster was charging him down on that assist, and he slid it to Stenger and left him with a finish I could have converted. We were floundering until he started playing pop-a-shot. That burst from him and Dee (who also had a three and the little runner) really spared our blushes. How did Dee look? To hear Byron and Joe tell it, he was fairly active defensively, and four assists to two turnovers isn't bad.
Brad: I hate Reggie, don't talk about Reggie to me when I am trying to be happy. Hating Reggie and Inside Man are the only two things Spike Lee and I have ever agreed on.
Dee looked good. He was finally active on defense again and actually tried to get in the lane on offense. When he just stands around outside and doesn't slash, we look awful. Speaking of standing around looking awful, why is Jeff Robinson still shooting threes? Come off it already man.
Joel: I'd like to think being pulled for James Farr (who I like as a project but is clearly not ready right now) would wake Robinson up, but that's fairly doubtful. Stenger brings more to the team than Robinson right now; at least he's active. We need something from someone inside or else our ceiling is fairly low. I know UC has the softest out of conference schedule this side of 'Cuse, but they'll destroy us inside if we play like we did in allowing Melvin Tabb to go for 20 and 14. We have a knack for playing to the level of the competition right now, and it has bit us in the haunches twice.
Brad: UC terrifies me right now. One of their forwards might accidentally score 40 on us unless someone in the post decides to play as if they have man parts. We allowed Kent 14 offensive rebounds in a single half. That's just amazing. Philmore now reminds me of Taylor last year. He just seems like the game is moving too quickly for him.
Joel: I'm with you on the Philmore/Taylor last year thing, right down to the elite rebounding rates without looking confident at any time. In Redford, Davis, and Martin, we have three shooters who are a combined 51-108 (47.2%) from behind the arc. Semaj has elite speed and quickness that is going to trouble any defense. Those four guys - only three of whom we can have on the court at the same time for any meaningful stretch - give us a puncher's chance against anyone. The difference between that and a good team is any sort of reliable inside presence. Until we have that, we're going to play down to bad teams but have a shot at just about anyone. Before Kent State, our two biggest margins of victory were Purdue and Butler, the two best teams we faced.
Brad: Taylor is starting to worry me. He can dominate for stretches and there are times he looks unguardable in the post. Unfortunately, he also is capable of disappearing so completely you wonder if he ever existed. Part of it is him not getting the ball enough, but he also needs to get position and demanding that the guards feed him. He just does not do that right now. That leaves him out of the game and a bit timid when he does get it again.
Joel: Taylor went into double-figures three times in the first four games and has done it once in the last five. He's shooting 12-35 in those five games. Justin Martin is the tallest guy on this team I would trust with a meaningful possession right now. Here's the thing, though: maybe that doesn't matter. As we have discussed in previous conversations, only one guy can score at a time. If we keep getting what we're getting out of Semaj and JMart and have one of Redford and Davis splashing open threes, all we need out of the forwards is defense, rebounding, and the ability to catch a pass and make a layup. To that end, don't you start Taylor and Philmore, bring Stenger in for scrappy minutes, and tell Jeff Robinson that his only two positions on offense are within ten feet and sitting on the bench?
Brad: At some point a team is going to go 3-2 and dare us to beat them inside. Or someone will go 1-3-1 and make us beat them with a player on the block. Unless we reinvent offense to the point that we establish the perimeter and then work in (which we can do if we keep dropping 47% from deep) we are going to have to get some consistent production from Taylor or Philmore.
Right now there is no need to play Robinson. He takes bad shots, he doesn't rebound, and he is back to seeming completely lost. He's the kind of player you get when a coach leaves and takes his recruits with him. He has the athleticism to help even if he just makes himself into a grinder, but he won't/cant do that. For now, I give Stenger all of Robinson's minutes and at least know that the one point comes with relentless effort and some rebounding.
Brad, again: How close are we to advocating some sort of four outside of one here?
Joel: I think Taylor has the passing and rebounding ability to be the big in a four in, one out scheme. I think it all depends on how big the opponent's second forward is. Martin has the athletic ability to rebound outside of his area, but I'm not sure he has the strength to secure an area against a big rebounder or the defensive prowess to hold his own against a good post player. My kingdom for Jalen Reynolds.
Here's what the season comes down to for me: if Philmore or Taylor can step up as a legitimate back-to-the-basket option, we can win 20 and have a reason to watch the selection show. If we keep playing the Semaj and three shooters game, we're going to spend Selection Sunday talking about how good we'll be next year.
While Joel and I weren't ranting about the status of our favorite European football clubs (seriously, why is Chelsea still playing Fernando Torres?) on Saturday we had the opportunity to go back and forth about Xavier v. Purdue. Semaj's breakout game was obvious to everyone, but it is difficult to see who his wingman will be this year. It didn't take long to turn that into an argument.
Brad: We got called good cop/bad cop last week and I suspect I was the bad cop. In an attempt to be positive, here's what I loved this week: 1. Semaj attacking late in the game. He's fearless and he wants the ball, that's a good combination when you make free throws at an 80+% clip. 2. Travis Taylor took 11 shots. I know he only made two, but on a team so guard reliant, it's good he's trying to generate some offense. 3. I'm loving Martin's new swagger. He's aggressive to the rim and not at all afraid to shoot.
Joel: Not afraid to shoot? Did you see him demanding the ball down the stretch? I can answer that for you: no. His last bucket came with more than 17 minutes left in the game. He had that one burst to keep us in the game at the beginning of the second half, and then he disappeared into the Justin Martin zone of listless offense and inexplicable decisions. I will say this for him, though, he stuck with it defensively. Same with Taylor, really. We got crushed on the glass. That's not excellent.
Brad: He missed time right after his personal six point run to give us the lead due to foul trouble. After that, he took a three pointer with six to play, but mostly just fit into the flow of the offense. Are you seriously complaining about 12 timely points on 5-7 from the floor? He wasn't demanding the ball because Christon is the man come crunch time. You don't need two alpha dogs out there.
We did get destroyed on the glass. Taylor was active, but our lack of actual girth is alarming. We do not have a big guy that really bangs down low. I found Philmore unimpressive yesterday. He seemed off balance an awful lot of the time and not really into the flow of the game.
Joel: Here's the thing with Martin: he's the perfect third-best player on a team. Semaj is obviously our best player, and he does the usual "best player on a team" things. Martin does the third-best player on a team things: takes the shots presented to him, fills in the gaps in the squad (in our case, extra rebounding and wing defense) and never really tries to tear a game up. His 12 on 5-7 is a perfect example of a "third banana" line. A player like Semaj would take 5-7 as a sign to get some; I don't think Martin has shown any sign of working that way. We need a guy we know will show up, make an imprint on every game, and be able to carry the load is Semaj is off. Right now, if Semaj has a bad game against a decent team (or a good game against a team that shoots 3-17 from deep), we lose.
Brad: It looked like Dee Davis was going to be that second guy, but since the Pacific game he has not been impressive. He's currently getting turned by everyone he guards, turning the ball over, and he shot terribly yesterday. He needs to rededicate himself to his defense, or he's not worth a whole lot with Semaj clearly capable of running the point. (Of course, Dee is going to play no matter what, because we are thin everywhere). His regression has been disturbing to me.
I still don't agree on the Martin thing. When was he supposed to go get some? He missed time because of his (partially self imposed) foul trouble, and he deferred to Semaj down the stretch. Yes, he could have shot himself back into the game, but the team didn't need him to. If he had, you'd be comparing him to Mark Lyons when he would take the ball out of Tu's hands to try to get his. Sometimes, you score your 12, you play some defense, you attack the glass, and you play for the team win. Martin also pointed at some fans that had been on him after he buried one shot, I loved that.
Joel: Say we're in a game where Semaj is sick/injured/suspended/fouled out/triple teamed and it's getting to a time where we need a basket. Does your heart really tell you "That's okay, we'll just get it to JMart and let him go to work?" Mine doesn't. I'm not saying we need a Cheeks(z) to Semaj's Tu, but he doesn't have a Chalmers to his Sato or a Lumpkin to his Brown. Imperfect analogies, but you get the idea.
Who could be the number two? Dee you already covered. I think we can agree that it's not Redford (fun but too limited in getting his own shot), Robinson (talented enough, too Jeff Robinsony), Farr, or Stenger. It can't be Semaj, because he is already our best player. That leaves Martin, Philmore, or Taylor. Martin has showed he can get buckets off the bounce or catch-and-shoot. Why he doesn't more often, I'm not sure. If he's going to be plan B, he needs to. Philmore I haven't seen enough of to know for sure. He was good at Towson, so I'm going to give him some more time to get up to game speed. Taylor can get his own shot on the post and he has a motor that doesn't quit, but he is frightfully thin and can be bullied out of a game offensively. I think he has the right mindset to be that guy, though. As you pointed out, his 2-11 shows he's not backing down from being our post option and he believes the next one is going to fall.
Brad: It's a bit unfair to assume that Martin can't fill that role. He hasn't really been called on to do it yet. We undoubtedly need him against Robert Morris, and he poured in 17 on nine shots. Other than that, he's just filled the spaces he needs to. His usage rate is 17.3% right now, Davis is at 22.9%, Christon is at 29.7%, and Taylor is at 19.5%. Even Jeff Robinson is at 18%. that means of our starting five, martin's usage rate is the lowest. If we adjust the offense a bit to maybe get Robinson to quit taking moronic three pointers or Taylor to look high opposite, that usage number, and JMart's other numbers are going to go up. As something of an aside, Martin has the second highest DR% on the team. That's amazing given last year he seemed allergic to contact.
Joel: That's pretty much where our two points come together. In terms of offensive rating, Martin is the most efficient player in our starting lineup, yet his usage rate is fifth of those five guys. That's obviously hurting our overall output. We've basically established that he is deferring to Semaj, and I'm okay with that. Other than Erik Stenger, nobody on the team takes a lower percentage of the team's shots while he's on the court. His true shooting percentage is 11th in the nation, but he's letting Dee Davis, Travis Taylor, Jeff Robinson, Isaiah Philmore, and Brad Redford take on a larger portion of the offense than he is. His rebounding rate is also fairly impressive. If he'd be a bit more assertive in looking for his in the offense, he'd be a breakout star and we wouldn't have to look for Semaj's running mate any longer.
We're now 6-1. The defense is just barely above average, but the offense is borderline elite based almost entirely on limiting turnovers and taking good shots. Our rebounding on the offensive end has been fairly poor, but other than that we've looked like a real basketball team. With home games against Vandy and Kent State (both of whom couldn't defend a stump), there's a good chance we go into the Crosstown Shootout Classic at 8-1. Did you see that coming? I didn't.
Brad: I'll conceded that, Martin needs to be more assertive for this team to really coalesce. Part of that needs to be done by the coaching staff funneling him some shots early in the game to get him going though. It's clear he is going to defer down the stretch, so we have to establish him before that. 8-1? I'd be tempted to pass out.
With Xavier playing over the weekend and the entirety of the Banners staff being in one living room, the need for massaging back and forth about non game related things went out the window. Now, with a lull in games and the post-Thanksgiving diaspora having taken place, we're back with a Tuesday edition of Sunday Conversation.
Joel: I know you're probably still in bed snuggling Captain Morgan [ed note. I was not, but Joel feels superior because he wakes up early] but I'm going to get the conversation started with this: Coach Mack picked up a tech in the Pacific game. Pacific converted both FT and scored on the ensuing possession. We lost by three. With all the obvious caveats about changing one event in the past in a vacuum, this team is that technical from being 6-0. That's a superficially absurd assertion, but it's still a lot better than I was afraid things might be at this point.
Brad: That's true, but that loss against Pacific is a bad one. The win over Drake isn't a whole lot better. We've played one decent team (Butler) and we beat them. Do you feel confident we could do it again though? This is a very soft 5-1. I'll grant you can only beat who is in front of you, but I could do with us beating those people a little more convincingly.
Joel: "Hi, I'm Brad, and I'm here to wipe that smile right off your face!" Even if it's a soft 5-1, it's better than an honest 3-3. I think we could beat Butler again. We had a good game plan against them, and we executed it. How about my boy JRob?
Brad: That's the optimistic way to look at it. If we had a solid game plan and executed it against Butler, what happened against Pacific, or RMU, or Drake? We should win those games far more handily than we did (or, in the case of Pacific, didn't). I'll say this, we looked like we came alive a bit in the second half yesterday. Maybe this team responds to getting chewed on a bit at halftime. We didn't exactly slam the door closed at the end, but that happens with a young team. And I'm not here to talk about Jeff Robinson.
Joel: It all happens with a young team. Take a bunch of 19 year olds on a road trip from Cinci to Anaheim, line them up against a team they think they should trounce in an event they might find meaningless, and expect them to have laser focus? Sometimes things happen. I know it's Coach Mack's job to not let them happen, but some of it is one the players, too. After that blip, though, they refocused and got two wins. They would have beaten Drake by more but for that unlikely barrage of insanely deep threes. Do you want them contesting hard 25 feet from the basket in that situation? I don't. If the opponent hits it, tip your hat and hit your free throws, which is exactly what they did. If that dude doesn't hit the last one with .1 seconds remaining, X wins by seven, which was just what KenPom called.
Brad: Drake made some shots, but they are a bad team. Their only win prior to Rice (248 in KenPom if I recall correctly) was against a DII team. Yes, they made some deep threes, but we should beat them by more than seven. If we are only seven points better than Drake, you can kiss meaningful postseason goodbye. Or maybe you can write Drake in, I'm not sure which, actually. What I did like was that we didn't fold under the threes. We made free throws and brought the game home.
Purdue isn't anything all that special either, but I would feel much better if we beat them. Part of what is concerning me is that our bigs seem disinclined to assert themselves on a game. Taylor absolutely wilted in front of Clarke yesterday, if he shows for Purdue, I'd be happy.
Joel: After that win, KenPom has us as 85th in the nation, which feels about right. The Massey Ratings have us 73rd, which I'd take. Basically, I feel like this team is a peripheral NCAA tournament candidate. It's going to come down to getting hot at the right time. We close the season with VCU, Memphis, UMass, Saint Lou, and @Butler. The time to make hay is now. The rest of the non-conference season (except Memphis in February) is @Purdue, Vandy, Kent State, UC (neutral), Wofford, @Tennessee, @Wake.
Win two of Purdue/UC/UT and sweep the rest and we're talking the start of an improbable bid for an NCAA appearance. Win one of them and we're still in that "get hot at the right time" zone of maybe sneaking in. Drop all three or any of the other games and they are who you think they are. As you so astutely pointed out, this is still a team that hasn't faced a single decent opponent or truly hostile environment.
Brad: Winning two of those games is a big ask, but not as big as sweeping the rest of them. Vandy and KSU both worry me a bit. It is nice to have the chance for some good wins in conference. VCU, Butler, UMass, Temple, Saint Louis, and St. Joe's could all help.
It really hinges, I think, on Travis Taylor. If he is even mediocre against Drexel or Drake, we run away and hide. He wasn't though. When he is clicking, we have a true post scorer to compliment our bevy of guards and whatever JMart is.
Joel: Vandy held Marist to 50... and lost by 17. You don't do that unless you're well and truly bad at basketball. If we can't beat them and Kent State at home, we're in trouble. If Xavier can go 5-2 or 6-1 (which is a very tall order), they'd be sitting on 10 or 11 wins heading into conference play. Assuming we lose at Memphis (who are suddenly looking a bit shaky in their own right), that leaves us needing to go 8-8 or 9-7 and pick up a first-round win in the A10 tournament to get to 20 wins. That's not out of the question. It likely leaves us the wrong side of the bubble, but it would be a monumental achievement for this squad.
Brad: Say that happens, do you think Coach Mack will get more plaudits for working a miracle, or be pilloried for missing the tournament? Reading message boards and other sites out there leaves me concerned that some people expect another relatively easy bid.
Joel: I think there will always be a segment of the fan base that thinks Mack isn't doing enough and another section that thinks the sun shines from his bottom. If Xavier misses the tournament, there will be a hue and cry from people who follow casually and think we make it there by birthright. Realistically, though, this isn't a tournament team.
What do you see as the main correctable issues X needs to address before the conference season begins?
Brad: Feeding the post. We absolutely have to establish some sort of inside threat. We aren't going to shoot 41.3% from deep all year long (I don't think) so we need other ways to put up some points. That and we need to start forcing pace.
Joel: I think ball security at the point is our number one priority. We're actually 53rd in the nation in TO% as a team, but that is artificially inflated because Taylor, Martin, Robinson, and Redford are all protecting the ball at elite rates. Unless you think those guys have all turned into Jordan Taylor, we need to stop sharting away possessions from our guard positions. Davis and Christon both have TO% around 25%; they need to get those down under 20% for this offense to avoid grinding to a halt.
The other priority is defense. Right now, our defense is in the top 50 in rebounding percentage and not sending other teams to the line. Those are the only things keeping us average on that end. We're below average at 2P% defense and between bad and awful at forcing turnovers, 3P% defense, 3P attempt defense, and blocking shots. I think Coach Mack is trying to get this team to choke out the middle, own the boards, and force teams to score from deep. That's working to an extent, but we need to get better at pressuring shooters, because we're getting killed from behind the arc. Only 11 teams give up a higher percentage of their points off of the three.
Part of the allure in Banners on the Parkway joining SB Nation was that Joel and I could continue to work together. As anyone with a brother can tell you, there is a connection there that cannot be faked. Frequently, this leads to collaboration and chemistry on the stories we hope that you want to read. Sometimes, though, it just turns into an argument. One game into the season and there is already plenty to talk about during those brief moments at work when a surreptitious Facebook message is possible.
Brad: The book on how to beat us has to be out now. 1. Hope we don't shoot some otherworldly percentage. 2. Pressure Davis. 3. Change looks, play some zone. Robert Morris isn't bad, but they shouldn't have been that close. We looked very rattled late.
Joel: It's also instructive to remember that Robert Morris is a very veteran team, especially at guard, and we're a very young team, especially at guard. We missed some shots that we normally make, rebounded like girls, turned the ball over too much, and still came away with the win. Still, we don't feel like a 31-0 team anymore.
Brad: No. Semaj and Dee looked like what they are, not what they had been. I'm trying to decide how much of that I attribute to the defense they just faced and how much I attribute to a crash back to earth.
Joel: Just like I didn't think Dee was a 22 PPG, 15 APG guy, I think it's a little harsh to say that he showed what he is today. Even so, he scored efficiently and hit a couple of threes. His mistakes came early and he adjusted a little as the game went on. These are the first extended minutes he's getting at this level; I think he'll continue to get better at recognizing the adjustments in-game as the season goes on.
Brad: I didn't mean he's always going to be harried and sloppy, I just meant he looked inexperienced today, and he is. The more we tried to speed things up that game, the more RMU was on us, but Davis and Christon weren't feeding the post in the half court either. So, when we went fast we were sloppy, when we slowed, we were stagnant. I think that is fixable, but it very nearly bit us today.
Joel: Yes it did. Robinson drifted in and out of the game today, but Takeoff Trav was good in the touches he got. He's rebounding like a man. They were getting guards to the glass, too; that makes it hard. I think he's looking like the real deal. What did you think of Martin, and what do you think he is going forward?
Brad: It's hard to argue with 17 points on 6-9 from the floor. I really wanted to see him take that game over late though, and he didn't do it. He still looks timid to me. I'm afraid that one bad night or one really good hiding and he is going to disappear again. That 17 today wasn't authoritative. He has to show just a little bit of that killer to get teams to really fear him. He took his last shot with 6:12 to play.
Joel: I couldn't help but notice that. The guy with 17 on 6-9 should be a threat at the end of the game. Instead, I had to remind myself he was on the floor when the game was tied with our last possession coming up. Thank goodness Redford got to the line. If that ball didn't get into Taylor, where was the basket going to come from? Could Dee have gotten to the tin? Semaj was cramping. Martin didn't seem to want it; Jeff Robinson bleh. I think penetrate and kick was the only way Martin was taking that shot. We could have used Semaj and Philmore (I think).
Brad: I'll give Dee credit, he set that last play up beautifully. I went back and rewatched it several times. He cleared the offense all out of lane like he was going to drive for the win, showed his defender the ball for just a second up top, took one look at Redford, and then buried his head like he was going for the rim. As soon as he caught Red's man step into his peripheral vision, he kicked it out. He never looked back outside, but he clearly had a plan in mind. That play was solid.
Joel: I like Dee. I hate it when people say things like this, but I think he's a winner. He knows how to make the little plays that make the difference in games like that one. Obviously, talent trumps winnerness every time, but fortunately he has both. 3-0. What kind of odds could you have gotten on that a couple of weeks ago? This team may not be the most talented iteration of the Muskies, but - as I was telling my boy/girl Flagship in the game thread - they're a lot less dire to watch than I was afraid they might be.
What are your initial thoughts on the DirecTV Classic of Anaheim or whatever they're calling this tournament now?
Brad: You think they were less dire to watch because you got to listen. That second half was an exercise in bad basketball both ways. You're right though, it really could be far worse. Dee may be a "winner," whatever that means, but he cannot afford to be off against better competition. That may be a lot to ask of him, but that's reality. As far as this tournament, I have no idea. I'm not even sure where I will be for that first game. I'm assuming tip will be at Mom and Dad's. [Ed. note: In case you were wondering where we spend Thanksgiving] If Christon can't play one game without cramping, how will he handle three in four days?
Joel: You've taken a negative turn here. Dee has shown the ability to handle and shoot fairly well. He had a rough game against the team that was 19th in the nation in forcing turnovers last year. I'm not denying he was bad at points tonight, but I don't think he's our biggest concern going forward.
First game is at 2pm on Thanksgiving. I think we beat Pacific. I don't think we have the depth to win three games is four days. If we beat them, we get the winner of Saint Mary's and Drexel, which is dodgy at best for us. I think winning two on that road trip makes it a success. We'll see what Philmore can bring to the table.
Brad: I'm not being negative, I'm saying Dee has to bee good when we play good teams. I think he can be, because he showed that against Butler. Our biggest concern going forward is that we played seven guys today in a game that was so frenetic we lost a dude to cramps. Where has James Farr gone?
Joel: He got an almost minute tonight. He was the biggest project of the class before Reynolds and Davis got declared ineligible. I don't think he's a piece that is going to be a big part of our success this year. I think he'll give us some good minutes and have a couple of games that show flashes, but he'll be fifth on the depth chart at forward when Philmore is back. Semaj is still getting back to game shape; we're going to need him to be ready this weekend.
3-0 with two fairly impressive performances plus whatever that was tonight. Has that recalibrated your expectations for the rest of the year?
I looked at our schedule before the season and saw maybe 17 wins, tops. I looked at our roster and saw a ton of question marks and literally no sure things. Stunningly, some of the answers to those questions have been positive. Taylor and Martin have been legitimate revelations. Dee Davis took a huge step forward over the summer. Semaj came in and was as good as advertised. Now if Philmore can come in and get 10 and 4, we might actually be decent. I'm not seeing a Sweet 16 run, but I think - if everything goes perfectly - we might pinch a 20-win season and maybe even sneak into the tournament. If we win two of three out west, we're looking at needing to go 15-10 the rest of the way to win 20. That's not out of reach, but that's about as far as I'll go in terms of a best-case scenario right now. Get back with me in another week and we'll see what I think. It will probably be something different.
Brad: I still think 20 is pipe dream level. I do think we beat Pacific, but that road trip is brutal. If we do win two, then this team is just flat out better than anyone thought. UMass hasn't looked amazing, but they have won. St Joe's gave FSU all they could handle last night, and VCU, Saint Louis, and Butler aren't going anywhere. Even URI has looked decent early. The Atlantic 10 is going to be a mess from top to bottom this year, because every team can beat any other on a given night. 15-10 isn't going to be easy, no matter how you look at it.
Part of the allure in Banners on the Parkway joining SB Nation was that Joel and I could continue to work together. As anyone with a brother can tell you, there is a connection there that cannot be faked. Frequently, this leads to collaboration and chemistry on the stories we hope that you want to read. Sometimes, though, it just turns into an argument. One game into the season and there is already plenty to talk about during those brief moments at work when a surreptitious Facebook message is possible.
Brad: Ok, so that was a thrashing on a grander scale than any of us had the right to expect. Did we learn anything from it though? I was most encouraged by Dee Davis' body looking way more solid and his willingness to drive, something he didn't do last year. I really wanted to see Semaj.
Joel: So we've beaten a D2 team and a shorthanded FDU. I loved not just Dee's performance, but his willingness to take charge. He's not just handing the team over to Semaj, which is great. And I don't want to belabor an obvious point, but we don't have any ball-stoppers on this team. The offensive interplay was head and shoulders above what we saw last year.
Brad: Offensive interplay is all well and good, but we need a killer somewhere. If this was Dee's first step toward that, that's awesome. Assuming MRSA doesn't cost Semaj an arm, we head into Butler with as full a roster as we are likely to have. Did this game impact your outlook on that one? I'd say no. This was a team we should beat, further depleted by suspension. Still, we ran riot when we should have, and that's always important.
Joel: Keep in mind that we were missing Philmore, too, and still murdered them on the glass. Of course, we'll be missing him Tuesday, too. What I get out of this game is that we don't have any more questions than we thought we had. Do we need a killer? We've got a bullpen by committee rather than just one closer; I'm okay with that. Last year, you knew Tu wasn't giving the ball up. That works until something like the Charlotte game two years ago happens. Coach Mack talked up the progress Rob has made this preseason, and Martin looked good. Do they take a step up, or are these just flashes?
Joel: I'll answer my own question, since you're apparently busy: I think Robinson and Martin will be exponentially better this season. They both have apparently passive personalities, and they were only too happy to defer rather than risk the wrath of Tu and Cheeks. In the Dee Davis-fueled era of good feelings, knowing one gaffe won't get them glared at may be what both of those guys needed.
Brad: I will never think that Robinson is anything but a fluke. He's done this before, he'll do it again. He'll also be atrocious 60% of the time. No, he is what he is. I do think Martin can step into an offense where he doesn't have to be the man and contribute. I think we do need a killer. You cite the Charlotte game two years ago, and that was bad, but Tu won way more than he lost by just owning the last two minutes of a game. Someone has to want to take that last shot. Davis bringing the ball down looking for the open option could leave us with Jeff Robinson holding it as time ticks down. This bring us full circle, because Jeff Robinson will always be awful.
Joel: It's okay to have a guy or guys who want to take the last shot, but having a guy who needs to makes the team one-dimensional in crunch time. That's fine if you've got a guy who was saving a spin-back three ball for a time he might need it, but I don't see that on this team. I'm fine with Dee, Red, Semaj, or whoever else being ready to take it if it's there and ready to trust his teammates if it isn't. Anywho, I'm still having to remind myself that it was just Fairleigh Dickinson. The real season starts Tuesday at 4. I know, because I requested leave to get off of work early so I could watch it. Assuming Semaj is healthy, who are you starting?
Brad: Who is whoever else? Let's be realistic here: Dee Davis has played one good offensive game in his career (which is admittedly brief), Redford is one dimensional, and that makes end game tough on him, Semaj hasn't played a game yet. I know the ball stopped with Tu and Cheeks sometimes and I know that they were occasionally abrasive, I don't care. Against Dayton in the A10 tournament we absolutely had to win, and Lyons made sure we did. Against Notre Dame in the NCAAs, it was Tu. We need a dog, there's a reason bullpen by committee doesn't work. Someone has to be the stud.
Joel: But a bullpen can only send one guy out there at a time (admittedly, it's my own analogy I'm invalidating here), while a basketball team with good chemistry can be more than the sum of its parts. You were there when we won that game in the 3-on-3 tournament 6-2. That wasn't because we had a stud. More to the point, Tu Holloway isn't walking through that door. With what we have, would you rather see someone try to be the stud, or we have a team approach on the last possession? Depending on what we need, we have Dee and Semaj ready to drive and finish or kick, Red and JMart ready to catch and shoot, Farr and Philmore capable of stretching the floor from the forward, Takeoff Trav and Philmore getting big inside, and JRob poised on the bench, ready to jump up waving a towel over his head. Needing three, are we that hurt with Dee/Semaj/Red/Martin/Farr out there? Needing just a score, how about Dee/Semaj/Martin/Philmore/Taylor? Those are a couple of crunch time lineups that make you guard everyone. I'm not saying we're John Wooden's '63-'64 Bruins, but that's not exactly hopeless at the end of the game, even without a designated closer.
Brad: 6-2, that was a game. Those guys were nonplussed. Those fives are nice, but someone has to want the ball to win it. You and I both know some guys just can't do it. I cede the point though, the Killer has left the building and we have who we have (fluid as that group is). Now we have Butler at 4p. First off, what is with that start time? It's more suited to a Jr high girls game.
Joel: Dee and Red can, Martin maybe, JRob definitely can't, which is why he's not out there in either of my imaginary crunch times. Tu was hecka clutch, but that doesn't mean a handful of guys who are rather clutch is bad. The start time is because it's part of that ESPN 24 hours of hoops thing. You knew that. It's the regular season now, you need to lock it up. Who do you start on Tuesday?
Brad: You lock it up. Run St. Francis v. Monmouth then or something. I start my same five again. No real reason to change it. If Semaj is healthy you just ease him back in. Now we see what Stenger is worth.
Joel: Same here. Question: can Redford guard a stump? If so, he's viable. If not, he's ten minutes a game. I think his offense is game ready, though.
Brad: I think we find out a lot on Tuesday. IF Redford can guard, IF Dee can run an offense, IF Taylor can produce, maybe we have something here.
Joel: I think you're absolutely right. If we show up and answer some questions against a Butler squad that everyone is already pencilling into the tournament, maybe we have the hints of the most unlikely of contenders. What a story that would be.
Part of the allure in Banners on the Parkway joining SB Nation was that Joel and I could continue to work together. As anyone with a brother can tell you, there is a connection there that cannot be faked. Frequently, this leads to collaboration and chemistry on the stories we hope that you want to read. Sometimes, though, it just turns into an argument. This season promises to be one of the more difficult in Xavier history. Trying to parse that out over Facebook message occasionally becomes a bit problematic.
Periodically throughout the season we will run these Sunday Conversations. Essentially nothing more than a (slightly edited) Facebook message transcript, this is what happens when two life long Xavier fans have a moment to do nothing but talk about their team. It's a bit different, but hopefully what it lacks in format and flow it will make up for in authenticity.
On the exhibition:
Joel: First things first: we beat a division two team by 22. Your gut reaction? X Scoring: Christon 12, Stenger 12, Robinson 12, Taylor 10, Martin 10, Davis 8, Philmore 5, Amos 3, Farr 2
Brad: Not impressed, but unless we win by 60, the score won't be impressive. Stenger is discouraging to me. An NKU transfer walk on gets more than Farr, Martin, or Davis? I know all the caveats, I still hate that
Joel: I don't like it either, nor do I love the fact that he started, but what can be done? For him to be our statistically most impressive player is less than encouraging. They hung with us by starting hot from deep, but then faded as soon as they stopped hitting. We proved last year, though, that there are teams in our league that can bury you from deep. Other discouraging things: at 49-34, we had outscored them 30-8 in the paint. We're not going to dominate D1 teams inside like that. We also had 31 points off of their 23 TO. I can see how we might be very good at pressuring the ball, but I don't think teams that were facing down Tu and Lyons last year are going to be shaken into scads of TO by Dee and Semaj.
Brad: Points in the paint are generally only as impressive as the competition. Listen, it's good that we forced 23 turnovers and that we converted off of those, I like to see that, even against bad teams. That said our three point shooting was criminal, we won on the glass but didn't exactly dominate, and Semaj and Dee combined for 8-22 from the floor. Our supposedly pass first, defense second, point guard saw fit to shoot ten times.
Joel: Each of them had five dimes, which is nice. We managed to turn it over 15 times, which isn't. An autopsy of an exhibition game against an overmatched opponent isn't all that interesting, though. What do we know now that we didn't before this tipped off?
Brad: Stenger will score if given opportunity? That's something, right? Coach Mack clearly trusts the guy.
Joel: Sure. This was akin to watching Andrew Taylor go off against Marquette a couple years back. Who is going to start next week? Here's what I have:
1 - Davis: energy guy, didn't look any more like a scorer today
2 - Christon: needed 12 shots to get 12 points tonight, probably our most talented guard, but going to need time to adjust
3 - 5: This will be three of Martin, Taylor, Stenger, and Robinson.
Does Coach Mack have the nads to start a walk-on in the season opener?
Does Jeff Robinson have the attention span to play more than 12 minutes per game?
Does Coach Mack trust Martin enough to start him?
Who is Travis Taylor?
In my gut, I think it's Stenger, Taylor, and Robinson. Mack loves effort and scrappiness, and Stenger has those in spades while Martin doesn't.
Brad: Martin isn't even close to having those. (This is so depressing, by the way.) Still, he has to start, because we have to score. I like what you have at one and two, I go Martin at three, Philmore at four, Taylor at five. Four is a mess right now though.
Joel: Philmore can't start the opener, he's suspended for three games. Now what?
Brad: Robinson and a 1-2 start.
Joel: Hard to see where we outclass Butler in any capacity, but I think we can beat FD and RMU. I want to believe it's not as bad as all that, but I didn't see a lot encouraging me. Here's something though; due to Semaj cramping up, Martin got some run at the two. So...
Let's try some gimmick lineups. Let's go big and run out Semaj (6'3"), Martin (6'6"), Philmore (6'8"), Taylor (6'8")/Farr (6'9"), and Robinson (6'10"). That's not sustainable, but who in the conference can hang with that height for a four-minute burst?
Brad: I won't know until I do previews, but my guess is no one. I'm watching Chelsea now. I'm really curious as to what is up with the Sneaker Stacker (Chris Cantino). How do we bring a guy in for relief without knowing if he can play? Also, will he be able to take minutes off Robinson? Swansea are giving us a run here. [Ed note: for more on Chelsea Football Club check out SBN siteWe Ain't Got No History]. The more I think about that big line, the more I like it. Slow the pace, dominate size, work matchups, and win ugly.
Joel: He'd be nice to have; he adds some bulk inside that we're missing with Philmore out. I'd anticipate the NCAA to have a decision to us sometime in late February. The problem with that big lineup, of course, is that we need somewhere to hide Martin on defense and the shooting guard isn't the best place to do that. Do we have anyone who we can consider an eraser in the middle? My guess is no. Farr has crazy length but is a freshman and weighs 11 pounds. Robinson is himself. We already gave up a crazy amount of 3PA last year; do we want the 1 and 3 sagging even farther for the inevitable roasting of Martin off the bounce?
Brad: Martin's length will cause issues out there for an average two but you're right, (Mikel with a deft flick, not often you say that) anyone quick will run right past him. How quick is Stenger? If Red runs the one and Semaj the two, that size advantage disappears, doesn't it?
Joel: Right. We lose the size advantage while retaining the quickness disadvantage. Rick Bro tweeted that Stenger was spending a lot of his time guarding perimeter players tonight and doing a good job of it; do we think that's something we can count on? I feel better with Martin guarding the four than the two, but do we really want Stenger trying to check the shooting guard?
Brad: I don't like Martin on the four either, he's too weak. He's actually quite hopeless, isn't he?
Joel: I think he gets off the ground quick enough and is long enough to at least make a PF work for his points. That's better than his being 15 feet from the bucket just getting his hips turned as a guard lays the ball in. I actually like him at the four, which leads me to my next gimmick: go small.
Joel: Red, Davis, and Christon at the guards. That's a shooter, a slash-and-distribute guy, and a raw scorer on the perimeter. Martin at the four; I believe in him as a scorer and I think he can stretch the heck out of defenses. He was feeble last year, but I think he can do damage given a chance to shoot himself into games. Then you've got real options at the five. You can play to stretch the whole way and run Farr our there. You can decide you want some beef with all that skinny and opt for Philmore or the Sneaker Stacker. You can decide you need a glue guy to get all the little stuff done and have Stenger out there crying havoc and letting slip the dogs of war. Or you could go with whatever it is that Robinson offers.
On the strength of our roster, I don't think we're going to just straight up outplay a lot of teams. So let's have Coach Mack coach, run some different looks at them, and try to pinch a few games on the merit of being more clever.
Brad:I like that, and I like the way you are thinking. I hate that I'm responding from a phone. Small is also intriguing, but now you don't have much to keep them from posting on Davis at the one or Semaj at the three.
Sometimes coaches don't like to gimmick like that though, for whatever reason. It's like David Ortiz refusing to just bunt to beat the shift. Not manly, or whatever.
Joel: I don't see Mack as that guy. I mean, he just started Stenger and gave Feeney some meaningful run a couple of years ago. You're right, that doesn't give us any way to stop that, but... there's the chance we're bad at basketball. If we spend the whole time trying to get the best guy at each traditional position onto the floor, we're going to get outclassed and go 6-10 in conference on our way to a 20-loss season. If we're not going to be good - and we may not - let's be fairly interesting. How many college teams have an offense that posts the one or the three? At least we're getting them out of their comfort zones.
Brad: It's a tightrope, to be sure. Get too cute and you risk dropping games to teams you should beat, play straight too long and end up getting routed.
This conversation ended with an unplanned nap near the end of LSU-Alabama. Join us again next week for more Facebook ruminations.
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