None of us really like to overreact, we really don't. Most people pride themselves on being able to take a step back from a situation and see it for what it is. Cool heads and calm hearts are universally appluaded in almost any situation. This is not one of those situations though.
Three things that have been festering for the Musketeers raised their respective heads very early on Saturday morning. As those of us bereft of television or internet followed tiny dots on our phones, Xavier folded in a way no good team ever should. Defensive apathy, foul line woes, and stagnant offense turned a 15 point lead against a bad team into an inexplicable loss. If these three areas aren't addressed, a first round loss may be best case scenario.
1. Free Throws: Say what you want about bad calls, time differences, or fatigue, close games are won and lost at the line. There are no mitigating factors in free throw percentage. There is never a hand in your face, you are never racing the clock, there is never contact coming from an unexpected angle. With free throws, you either make them or you miss them based on your own ability. Most of the time, it seems, Xavier misses them.
As a team, the Musketeers shoot 63% from the stripe. Bigs Kenny Frease (29%) and Travis Taylor (57%) are obvious culprits, but Andre Walker (63%), Dee Davis (55%), Justin Martin (25%) and Brad Redford (57%) also suck. All the Calipari disciples who think athleticism and skill will overcome all faults need look no farther than last night, when Xavier outclassed Hawaii, but lost because they couldn't make a standing 15 footer. It's inexcusable.
2. Lazy Defense: How does Hawaii, a terrible offensive team, eventually win by scoring 84 points? Simple, Xavier gets lazy. With the Warriors down 15 to a top 25 team, you might expect them to quit. Evidently, the Xavier players did. Faced with the prospect of actually burying a team, the Musketeers instead became lazy and apathetic on defense. The incomparable Joston Thomas somehow managed to score 24 points on 8-11 from the floor. Only better players not caring lets that happen.
This wasn't the first time this year that Xavier has let down, either. Purdue scored at will early in the second half, LBSU ran circles around Jeff Robinson and Brad Redford and the offensively elite Morgan State somehow managed 63. The Musketeers tend to take an undisciplined and lackadaisical approach to defense. We support Coach Mack a great deal here, but this directly at his feet. If he cannot get his team to shut down Hawaii, forget beating anyone good. Last night was embarassing and pathetic defensively.
3. Stagnant Offense: If you are a Xavier fan, you have seen this 100 times. Kenny Frease sets a half-hearted screen 23 feet from the basket and then plods down the lane. Tu Holloway dribbles sideways off the screen and passes to Mark Lyons, who passes back. With ten seconds left, someone runs at the bucket. That brilliant offensive strategy leads to a lot of free throws (useless if you don't make them) but not a lot of open jumpers. Last night Xavier managed a paltry 12 assists on 30 made field goals. Think that's a one game issue? Xavier managed eight on 28 at Vandy, 9 on 21 against Butler, and 9 on 23 against LBSU.
What that means is that the Musketeers like to watch Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons dribble. While that can be entertaining, it doesn't create shots, good basketball, or, recently, wins. With Frease lost 20 from the hoop and Travis Taylor still not sure around the rim, Xavier cannot count on bailouts for bad drives. That leads to the egregious turnover numbers you've seen recently and the losses that have accompanied them.
In summation, Xavier is playing bad basketball right now, and has been covering that through athleticism and skill. If they don't learn to play some real defense and create more on offense, all the missed free throws in the world won't matter. Is this all an overreaction? Maybe it is, but none of it is false.