What happened: UMass 80 - Xavier 73
Did you read our game preview? Not that it matters a lick if you did or not, but if you read it, you saw this: "Of a bigger concern to Xavier is the rate at which a team chucks from beyond the arc, and UMass takes more than 36% of their shot attempts from the land of plenty. That's in the top 100 in the country and - considering Xavier's season-long struggle to shut down the perimeter - leaves the Muskies susceptible to a Minutemen hot streak from deep. Color me concerned." You also probably read how UMass was going to put a ton of pressure on the ball and depending on forcing turnovers to mask an otherwise mediocre defense. Full disclosure: I didn't watch a second of any game UMass played before I wrote that. Kenpom.com, ESPN's game logs, and a smattering of team-specific blogs are the bulk of my research materials. Yet Xavier once again showed up looking entirely unprepared for what the other team was going to try to do to them. This is on the border of developing into a disturbing trend.
Xavier was verging on double-digit turnovers before their first official shot attempt tonight. Some of this was down to the UMass pressure defense, but an alarming number of them were somewhere between lazy and careless. Massachusetts somehow avoided opening up a big lead during that stretch of play, but they were missing a lot of shots during that run. But, after opening the game 2-10 from behind the arc, UMass responded by hitting 8 of their next 16. After allowing Dayton enough looks to shoot 31 times from deep, Xavier made exactly zero defensive adjustments in allowing the Minutemen to lift from deep 27 times on the game. Any time you let a team get a lot of clean looks at the basket from deep, there's a chance they'll get on a run and bury you. That's what happened tonight.
The real story for Xavier was the performances of Mark Lyons and Tu Holloway. Holloway was visibly tired on the floor, probably owing to the 45 heroic minutes he put in against Dayton. He ended up with 10/4/6 plus 2 steals and 1 TO on 2-11/2-5/4-4 shooting. Cheeks went for 15/6/5 with 2 steals and 3 TO on 6-18/3-9/0-0 shooting. Picking up 21 missed shots from those two guys really hamstrung a Xavier offense that once again went through stretchs during which it looked stagnant, selfish, or downright clueless. By the time the team was playing with any real urgency, the game was dead and buried.
I hate being all negative, so here are a couple of high points from the game. Brad Redford played hard, sprinted up and down the court while some of his teammates were sauntering, and continues to show a more versatile offensive game. This was exhibited in his drive through the lane to finish a layup and draw a foul today. Redford is still a somewhat limited player, but he is no longer only a threat from behind the arc. He posted 8/2/0 on 3-6/2-4/0-0 shooting. Kenny Frease also showed up, going for 12/8/2 with a block on 5-7/0-0/2-2. Frease even caught a couple of low passes and finished through contact on occasion. More games like this out of the big man are going to be an absolute necessity for Xavier if they want to salvage anything out of this season.
Odds and ends:
-I'm either disappointed or disgusted. I'd update you in the morning if it was of any consequence.
-Travis Taylor and Andre Walker started at the forward positions. They combined for 2/9/0 on 0-2/0-0/2-2 in 27 minutes. Unacceptable.
-Brad Redford was not featured in Xavier's lineup late in the game despite the fact that Xavier's defense consisted of fouling and its offense of chucking threes. I'm at a loss to explain that.
-Xavier had 18 assists on 24 made buckets today, so there's that.
-Chaz Williams went for 29/5/9 on 8-12/6-8/7-7 shooting. At least four of his threes were unguarded from straight on at the top of the key; Xavier never adjusted to it.
(My dad is an old-school basketball guy and a die-hard X fan, and he and I text throughout the games from time to time. His opinions can be both insightful and entertaining, especially pulled from their context. Below is a sampling of his offerings tonight.)
-"1 posession, 1 TO."
-"2 for 2." "3/3!!!" "4/4!"
-"Unreal, we are not ready to play again."
-"7 in less than three minutes. Unreal. Punch the NIT ticket."
-"10 TO in 4:24! Pathetic."
-"At some point we have to defend the three."
-"Lyons has to quit with the quick shot. Thank God for Wells!"
-"Make a stinking layup!! 14 TO!!"
-"In trouble when Red has to go to the hole!"
-"We beat these guys by 29 last year."
-"This is sad. Red, too little, too late."
-"Give me Griff, I think he's ready!!!"
-"Just gave up our tenth three! How can that be? Someone (read: the coach) has to make an adjustment."
-"I hear talk that six A-10 teams can make the tournament. Power conference."
-"Where is Red?"
-"Well, when you have a chance to get Rob his minutes..."
-"Red sparks them and then sits. What is up with that?"
-"We can't even foul right. They didn't even start to play until they were down 20."
Ugh. At this point, I think Xavier needs at least 21 wins and probably 22 to get into the tournament. That puts the team within range of needing some conference tournament wins just to be relevant on the rapidly approaching Selection Sunday. Stay tuned for Brad's narrative recap.