Things didn't go very well last night. With Joel and I separated by both time and distance in our viewing of the game, Facebook message became the only means of communication. While the game was a mess, it did bring up some salient talking points.
Brad: That could hardly have gone worse. As is evident by my recap though, I gained a great deal of respect for your boy. He just would not quit until back to back truly tragicomic calls saw him off. The officiating wasn't bad, but it could certainly have been better. It was nothing short of a fight (not like that, calm down national media members) under the bucket all game. Taylor and Stenger tried to get position, but they consistently got climbed. Perhaps it was seeing the futiliy of that effort that caused Philmore and Robinson to decide to not even bother. Remember when you said "I think Robinson...will be exponentially better this season." Those were heady days.
Joel: We're a team full of limited players: Semaj can't shoot, Redford is slow, Dee is 4'2", et cetera. Fortunately, their strengths and weaknesses nicely overlap with one another to form a cohesive whole on good days. Unfortunately, it doesn't take much to derail that whole if one of the elements falls out of place. Super unfortunately, Jeff Robinson was worthless, Justin Martin didn't show up (as first reported by me two weeks ago in a Conversation), Semaj cramped up, and Dee was clearly hurting. Oh, and Redford had a bad shooting night and we went 3-14 from the line. That left us relying on the surprisingly effective Travis Taylor for offense while we tried to feed him with Dee Davis hopping on one foot and Brad Redford trying to break down a swarming, athletic defense. It was a recipe for disaster, and we pulled a disaster out of the oven, let it rest, and carved it to serve tableside.
Also, you may not love Dee's game, but you've got to respect his balls/grit/whatever you want to call it. He's the perfect third guard unfortunately thrust into a starting role.
Brad: I thought Redford did a nice job feeding Taylor when he could actually initiate the offense, but those moments were few and far between. Is there really that much to say here? We just flat got destroyed by a better team. What we didn't do was execute on the little things. Our defense was solid, except when it came to ending possessions. We got into jumping contests and didn't block out. Little thing. We just didn't make free throws. Little thing. Semaj can't be bothered to treat his body like he should. Little thing.
The message board crowd attacking Redford (and they are) is missing the point. When your stud takes himself out of the game (and burns your penultimate timeout to do it) and when your tallest player shows next to nothing in the way of motivation, this is what happens. Brad gave it a shot, but he just can't do the things a point guard can.
Joel: I'm both encouraged and alarmed by what came out of this game. On the one hand, of our nine scholarship players, three either didn't show up (Robinson, Martin) or left early (Semaj), one was clearly playing through something (Darwin), one is a project (James Farr), and one began the year planning to pay his own tuition (Stenger). Despite that, when Dee fed Trav for a dunk to make it 8, we were a stop and a score from making it really interesting against the #11 team in the nation. Our defense was stout, and the effort was there from the guys who could be bothered.
On the other hand, Semaj's cramps are starting to go from annoying to troublesome, neither Martin nor Robinson has shown even a hint of being mentally or emotionally capable of becoming more than they are right now, and we're not bringing in anyone at the winter transfer window. I still believe in the pieces on this team, but they're going to have to figure it out, and I don't know if they can.
Do UC fans like Cronin? Talking all that garbage downplaying the Shootout, calling it "the most overrated game on the schedule" according to Byron. OSU and Michigan football coaches earn points with the fan bases by emphasizing the rivalry; what does he gain from downplaying it?
Brad: Maybe it's watching too much football (European variant) but it almost sounds to me like Cronin is trying to talk his way out of town. "Oh, this little game? Yeah, I guess it's nice" and the like. It just smacks of the situation not quite being big enough for St. Mick. His assertion that it should always be a neutral site isn't all wrong, but the idea of playing it in the cavernous tomb it was last night is absurd. The fans were good, but the place never was that LOUD that comes through the tele.
Joel: I don't hate the neutral site, but that particular neutral site sucked. If they won't have in on campus, they need to at least find an arena suitable for it. The irony of Cronin's comments is that he has through the years talked about the Big East conference games like they were so much more important than the shootout. I can't wait to listen to him talking up his upcoming matchups with Tulane and Central Florida in Conference USA, vol. II once the Catholic Seven complete the exodus of talent from the Big East. Cronin has always come across as pretty in love with who he thinks he is, which makes it all that much easier to loathe him.
One of the things I like about the Shootout is that it reminds me of the rivalries we had in high school. One team's good guys graduate and the other team takes hold. A year or two later, it swings back the other way. Occasionally Lance Stephenson (owner of one of the best basketball nicknames of his era) thinks he's good enough for the NBA. Last year, we dominated. This year, all our good guys were gone. Next year, Mbodj, Wright, and possibly Kilpatrick are out and Semaj gets a chance to redeem himself. It's the circle of life, brought to you by basketball.
Despite the gallant efforts of Dee Davis, Xavier simply was not good enough to put together two solid halves of basketball. The Musketeers could only hobble as their crosstown rivals salted the game away.
Much like Christmas, Easter, or a Browns win, the Crosstown Shootout comes but once a year. Winning this game isn't a replacement for other triumphs like winning the conference or making the Sweet 16, but knocking off a ranked and favored UC team is a visceral thrill that can't be replicated without controlled substances.