Frequently your opinion on a basketball game will come down to whether you are a results guy, or a process guy. The loss against Creighton was just a loss if you only consider results, but was a good offensive showing full of promise if you look at process. The win over Bowling Green was depressing for anyone concerned with process, but ultimately a win for the results guys. This game, however, had little to offer for either subset of basketball fan, with both the result and the process being poor at the very best.
With roughly 18 minutes to play, Xavier was still in good position to turn this game into a win after an ugly first half. Justin Martin (19/7/2) carried most of the load early and kept Xavier within touching distance. Trailing by only one, the Musketeers allowed a 15-4 run that essentially ended the game. In that decisive five minute stretch Providence went 6-8 from the floor and 2-2 from deep. Xavier simply could not get a stop or keep up the scoring pace on the other end.
And that really is the issue. Xavier has a top 25 offense and currently sits with Creighton and Villanova as a cut above the other offenses in the Big East. Offense, even the best of offenses, can be stopped. Where Xavier has always excelled is in being the team that could clamp down on even the most high-scoring of teams. Since conference play started though, the Musketeers have been eighth in the Big East in defense and posted a defensive efficiency number ten points higher than their aggregate season average. In short, Xavier cannot stop anyone right now.
That became obvious as the game at the Dunkin Donuts Center continued. Every time that the Musketeers got back within four or five (and they did that six times) the Friars were able to put together a couple of buckets and stretch the lead back out. Xavier simply never got the stops they needed to get back over the hump. Providence shot 64% from the floor in the second half and knocked down 40% of their three point attempts on the game. Xavier, on the other hand, shot only 42% from the floor in the second half and had a 1-10 from deep mixed in there for good measure. Still, the 41 points the Musketeers scored would have been enough to win the game if they had allowed a number slightly less preposterous than the 46 they were gashed for.
Pouring in 41 in the first half would also have led to a win, but Xavier wasn't able to do that either. Chief among the reasons for that were Matt Stainbrook (11/9/3) and Semaj Christon (18/4/2). The plan early in the game was clearly to pound the ball into the Stain Train, and he responded by having one of his worst games from the floor as a Musketeer. With his first five touches he recorded four misses and a turnover, and followed that by finishing 4-13 from the field. This probably won't be a game that Matt will want to see in a scrapbook in the future.
The team's leading scorer was again effective, getting 18 points and going 8-9 from the stripe, but Semaj also went 5-14 from the floor and took way too long to get into the game. As Joel mentioned in the Breakdown, Christon didn't make a field goal until there were less than 17 minutes to go in the game after not even trying one for the first 13 minutes. Semaj has really adapted his game this season to adjust for having teammates capable of carrying the load, but he really needs to be involved in the offense at all times. A force or two is far better than being a passenger when Stainbrook is misfiring and JMart is the only thing carrying the team.
Add in a 16.7% from deep, 41.2% from the field, no significant advantage on the glass, and foul trouble for the forwards and you have the recipe for a loss on the road. That's exactly what Xavier got. That only drops the Musketeers to 5-2 in the third best conference in the land (the AAC and A10 languish directly above the powerful WCC), so it is hardly panic time, but this game was a warning shot. The result wasn't there, but neither was the process. This could be a long week of practice for a team looking to reestablish defensive dominance.
- Should Xavier try to run the Friars? The Musketeers threw out a diamond press to some effect on possessions late in the game, and the 67 possessions were closer to the pace Xavier prefers than that of the Friars, but late in the game Providence slowed when they wanted to. Bryce Cotton spent a lot of time standing high on the left side, just watching the clock run. It also doesn't help to force pace when the other team isn't missing.
- Will size be a problem? It certainly was. Xavier blocked nary a shot and had 10 of their own efforts sent in the other direction. Carson Desrosiers blocked six in just 22 minutes and was the bane of Stainbrook's left handed existence. Here, also, is where mention of the officiating makes it's weekly appearance. The inconsistent way that fouls were called during the game led to another host of touch fouls being called while some absolute bludgeonings went apparently unnoticed. Please note: this is in no way intended to blame the refs for the loss. They were bad, but bad both ways.
- Can Xavier slow down Cotton? No. 25 points on 8-19 from the floor and seven assists speak to the impact that Cotton had on the game. Dee Davis (2/5/5) has been good, possibly great, recently, but he could not handle Cotton off the dribble. A switch to the quicker Christon simply led to a touch foul call on the perimeter. Providence ran Dee off of screens, stagger screens, double screens, and elevator door screens in an attempt to slow his pursuit of Cotton. It worked, and no one can guard Bryce Cotton from anything other than perfect position. Full credit to Cotton and Providence for executing a game plan perfectly.
In his last 12 games, Bryce Cotton is averaging 41.8 minutes. He hasn't sat out for a second since a 30 point loss at Villanova Jan. 5th.— Rob Dauster (@RobDauster) January 27, 2014
Tweet of the game:
@BannersParkway I just don't know what is or isn't a foul anymore.— Nick (@nicktriv04) January 25, 2014
That's fine Nick, the refs don't either.