If you don't dislike this guy, we can't be friends. - Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports
The season comes down to this. Xavier has to win tonight to have a chance to keep going. Survive and advance begins with the Hawks.
When these two teams faced off at St. Joseph's on January 26th, Xavier came up on the short end of a 59-49 score. After Semaj Christon hit a jumper to make it 45-41 in the Muskies' favor, X shut down the offense and surrendered a brutal 18-4 run over the final 8 minutes of the game to fritter away the game. During that run, the Hawks scored exactly zero points from inside the three-point arc in live play, instead hitting three shots from deep and going 9-11 from the foul line. It was, to say the least, a bizarre and disheartening way to lose the game for X.
You're likely already at least passingly familiar with St. Joseph's, so we won't give a full run down, but a quick look at their roster goes somewhat as follows. Veteran guards Langston Galloway (13.3/3.6/2.3 on .399/.373/.746 shooting) and Carl Jones (14.1/2.8/2.6 on .407/.357/.647 shooting) lead the way for the Hawks. In the middle, Ronald Roberts, Jr (11.6/8.5/1.0 on .535/.000/.686 shooting) and Halil Kanacevic (8.4/7.0/3.3 on .446/.278/.754 shooting) funnel play to C.J. Aiken (10.9/5.6/1.0 on .505/.266/.797 shooting), who is an eraser. In fact, all three of those players feature elite shot blocking skills, combining for 5.5 blocks per game. Kanacevic is also kind of fat.
Bench production is extremely limited; the Hawks are 340th in the nation in bench minutes. Aside from the guys mentioned above, reserve guard Chris Wilson (6.9/3.3/3.6 on .378/.275/.661 shooting) grabs about 30 minutes per game, and wing Daryus Quarles (2.2/1.3/0.4 on .362/.313/.417) gets about ten. Beyond that, the bench is a hodge-podge of guys who pull single-digit minutes per game, filling the occasional need at Phil Martelli's whim.
The Hawks favor a very slow pace, almost on par with Xavier in that department, and neither force nor commit many turnovers. They shoot really well from inside, but for some reason take almost 40% of their shots from beyond the arc, where they are below average. As Xavier saw in that January game between these two teams - in which St. Joe's made 11 free throws, 10 threes, and 9 twos - they can occasionally get hot and shoot themselves to victory. Also, they're 10th in the nation in block% as a team. All caught up? Good.
It's hard to draw too many conclusions from that previous meeting. On the one hand, Xavier played the Hawks tough on the road for 32 minutes before folding like a house of cards. ON the other hand, that was a completely different Xavier team than the one that will take the court later today. Semaj shot 21 times. JRob, JMart, and Philmore combined for 16 and 20 in 66 minutes, but it was Robinson and Martin combining for all of the points and all but 5 of the boards. Philmore has come along since then, but has it been enough to counterbalance the fading of Martin and Robinson? Taylor went for 10 and 5 and fouled out. Finally, Xavier shot like garbage (1-13) from deep.
-How healthy is Landen Amos? Everyone enjoys a good underdog story, which is why Xavier's walk-on defensive stopper was getting so much love before he went down with a hip problem that kept him out of the last six games. Amos is back cleared to play this weekend, though he's likely not at 100% fitness just yet. Still, it's all hands on deck time for the Musketeers, and every meaningful minute Amos can afford them is one more minute that isn't on Semaj's legs on down the road.
-Who will help carry the load? Semaj and Trav are usually options one and two for Xavier, but options three through five might well come in handy against St. Joseph's monstrous front line. It's hard to have a non-zero amount of faith in Robinson and Martin right now, but a resurrection from either of them would be seriously helpful. If Dee and Redford can combine for more than the 5/3/4 on 2-11/1-9/0-0 they posted in January, that would also boost Xavier's chances. If it comes down to Semaj shooting 10 times in the last 10:30 again, X might be in trouble.
-Which teams will show up? Xavier's struggles with consistency are likely fairly familiar to you at this point. St. Joe's has also been prone to wavering form; you don't have to go back much farther than their last two games - a cracking 81-44 demolition of URI followed by a listless 52-40 loss against Charlotte - to illustrate that. Either of these teams is capable of opening up a can or completely dissolving on any given day; they'll both want to bring their best effort tonight.
-Check the shooters. As previously stated both above and in other articles, the three-point line is a fickle mistress. Xavier held St. Joe's to .97 points per possession last time they played, which is pretty good. Unfortunately, St. Joe's got hot from beyond the arc for a couple of short bursts (ending the night 10-24 from deep), and that was enough to push them to the win. A team can easily shoot itself out of a game from long range, but they can also get warm and bury you. If Xavier lets St. Joe's roll those dice often enough, the Muskies run the risk of eventually having them come up whatever is good in dice rolling games.
-Shoot from the middle. St. Joe's does a great job of blocking shots, and they also do a pretty well in avoiding foul trouble in the process. What they don't do particularly well is rebound, and it's no mystery why. With big men flying all over the place to block shots - and St. Joe's usually has three shot blockers on the floor at a time - gaps open up on the glass. The more Xavier works it in before putting it up, the better chance Philmore, Taylor, and Robinson have to grab stick back points.
-Control the basketball. The Hawks flat out have little to no interest in forcing turnovers on defense. Against a team with a glacial pace that is so focused on doing other things defensively, there is no excuse for Xavier to give away possessions with loose passing and bad decisions. Turnovers are going to happen during the course of any game, but Xavier needs to be smart with their attacks and make the most of every trip down the floor.