This week turned the season's popular rebuilding narrative right straight onto its head. Xavier came into the Temple game off of a four game losing streak and back to back rotten losses. Dee Davis went down after nine minutes of playing time in the first half and Semaj Christon missed time with cramps, but Xavier won. Two days later, Xavier rolled George Washington in the first half and played the second half well enough to maintain a 15 point margin and win.
Joel: Barely 48 hours ago, we were sliding, in diasarray, losing to crappy teams, and getting ready to face a Temple squad that beat 'Cuse and played Kansas to single-digits at their place. Now we're 2-0, tied atop the conference, and resting up for a couple of days before heading to play a St. Bonaventure squad that lost by 19 to the team we just beat by 15. How do you feel about the team now?
Brad: Honestly? Not a whole lot different about our long term chances. I do love that the intensity got cranked up the last two games. This team definitely brought a ton of energy at home. Still, the flaws are still there. We still make stupid mistakes and turn the ball over, we don't shoot well from the line, and we had to rely on Semaj a lot.
I'm not all negative though. That was a gutsy and awesome win without our point guard and Coach Mack had a great gameplan against that zone. Also, it takes a soulless man to not love Redford shooting like that.
Joel: Well aren't you just a ray of sunshine? I loved how they worked that. Run a man to the middle, get it to him, and let him kick from the center of a collapsed defense. The key is finding someone with the composure and ability to handle that role, and Trav was very good there when we needed him to be. I'm with you on Mack; his coaching chops have been the stuff of message board debate for a while now, but he has come out with a couple of outstanding game plans and had the team fired up after a bad stretch. Hats off to him.
I think there are other encouraging signs, too. We only had 10 TO despite one of our primary ball handlers being on the pine. We assisted 16 of our 28 buckets. JMart was pretty anonymous offensively but still stayed engaged enough to block 3 shots in 12 minutes. I'm not even going to try to project anything about JRob; there's just no way to make sense of him.
I see a team rounding into form at just the right time. The Temple W was our second over an RPI top 50 opponent, and to come back and mop the floor with GW while hanging a big number on a tough defense says a lot about the toughness of this team. After that summer, there was no way to know what we had, and we came out gangbusters. Then the scouting report got out and teams adjusted to us. Now we're adjusting back by building around defense, Semaj and Trav, and winning ugly. The next two weeks are @Bonnie, La Salle, @Charlotte, @St. Joe's. It's time to take this show on the road.
Brad: I think realistically we end that stretch 4-2 on conference. If we are 5-1, I'll start to think that Coach Mack is working a miracle. You know me, I love winning ugly and just suffocating teams.
You aren't supposed to look past teams, but that is for the players. As a fan, I'm looking past St. Bonaventure. If we knock off La Salle, I'll start getting excited. Beating them is going to take a serious defensive effort. Their guards can be absolutely deadly.
Joel: Duren, Galloway, and Garland can all put the biscuit in the basket, but we will have the advantages of being at home and being better on the glass. KenPom actually gives us better chances of winning that game than the game against St. Bonaventure. Of course, the Bonnies can't defend and now are on a five-game slide after getting it fed to them by VCU.
I think we can win three in that stretch, and here's how. First, we need to get Dee back healthy so we can keep up the defensive pressure for longer. Much like a soccer team that presses, we need legs to feed what we do here. The emergence of Amos and the return of Davis will give us enough guys to get after it pretty hard for most of the game. Second, we need Good Semaj to come to the free throw line. He's scoring the ball fairly well right now, but he's really being let down by his performance from the stripe. When we get into tighter games, he's going to keep getting to the line. What that's worth is up to him.
Third, we need to work through the post rather than over-dribbling. We stagnated on offense because we had guys who wanted to carry the team (an admirable goal, no knock there) instead of whipping it around and letting the ball find the scorer. Trav has been savvy this year about working inside-out; that keeps defenses honest and gives shooters and slashers space to run into. We need more of that. Finally, we need the extra man on offense. Taylor and Semaj are consistent contributors and both can be effective even when it's not falling for them. Having one more guy step up - and it doesn't have to be the same guy every time out - can make the difference between winning and losing in conference road games. Red, JRob, JMart, and Dee all need to be ready when the opportunity shows up.
Brad: This football game is pretty good.
Joel: I like Colin Kapeaepreranick. I may have spelled that wrong. It might be Collin.
Brad: As I was writing the recap I saw Taylor's line. 6/11/6. You don't get that out of a big very often. That goes to your point that he can impact the game without scoring. Earlier in the year we were looking for the number two guy, but I think Taylor may be him. That leaves us needing a third threat, which we don't have. Well, we don't have someone consistent there. Davis, Martin, and Robinson all can do it at any given time. It's that proverbial rainy Tuesday night in Stoke when we need options that we just don't have them.
Joel: What we do need is all hands on deck. This team at its best is starting to remind me of classic Xavier squads: a top dog and a crew of supporting staff that can make the difference at any given time. The biggest problem right now is keeping guys engaged when they're not scoring. Trav has that. Dee has that. We need JRob to be flying around, not lingering in the shadows, if he's not hitting. JMart started to show it with his three blocks and some of his rebounding performances. Even Red has shown he can move onto the ball and at least survive, if not exactly thrive. For this team to go anywhere, it's absolutely vital that the guys who aren't Semaj, Dee, and Trav to find ways to make their mark on the game when they aren't putting points on the board.
Brad: Agreed. That's what has to happen for us to win. The simple question becomes: will it? Like I said, a 3-1 run here and I'll start to believe. Until then, it's hard not to see us as one of those teams capable of punching well above its weight but hampered by serious flaws.
What excites me is the idea of defending our way out of those flaws. You know that UT-Georgetown game earlier this year that everyone hated? I'd love to see us do that to someone in the NCAAs. I could die happy then.