The idea behind playing exhibition games, closed door scrimmages, and games in Brazil is to get ready for the first big test of the season. The first game is a step up in competition, in pressure, and in meaning going forward. At least it is supposed to be. Last night, Xavier swept aside Northern Arizona with the impudence of a team playing yet another warm-up game against yet another doormat. This one, however, counted.
There's probably not a lot to be gained from a minute by minute breakdown of this one. To say it was over from the jump would be an exaggeration only in the strictest sense of the word. Xavier scored on five of their first seven possessions, a stretch that included a three pointer by Matt Stainbrook (18/9/1), and led by double digits with barely five minutes off the clock. Eight minutes into the game, Xavier had already gone ten players deep and was leading by 16.
That depth was evident throughout the game for Xavier. Trevon Bluiett (18/5/2) led the team with 25 minutes played, three other players joined him in the 20s, and six more played double figure minutes. That all adds up to ten players with over 12 minutes played. Sean O'Mara (3/0/0) probably would have joined that group but for his amazing propensity for making physical contact with the other team. Byron and Joe pointed out that O'Mara's game is probably better suited to banging with the bigs of the Big East, but there is something to be said for adjusting to the whistle. Sean couldn't do that and consequently missed most of the game.
Not that it really ever developed into a contest. One quarter of the way into the game, the Musketeers were up by 20. Far from letting up as the game against a clearly overmatched opponent went on, Xavier just kept pouring in the points. When the first half buzzer sounded, X led 48-22, had scored 32 points in the paint, and had nine players in the scoring. Probably more encouraging for the coaching staff was the defensive effort. NAU shot 28.1% from the floor and only 18.2% from behind the arc in the first 20 minutes. Those numbers would eventually go up, but not until the game entered garbage time did defensive intensity really begin to wane.
That's not to say the game wasn't without a couple of concerning notes. Dee Davis (5/1/3) was very limited by his rib injury and never really settled into much of a rhythm with the ball. That could be part of what led to Xavier 22.2% turnover rate, a mark four percentage points higher than last year's not exactly conscientious managed. While one game of 16 turnovers, especially in a game in which six players debuted, is hardly the end of the world, it does merit watching.
By the time the walk-ons were sent in, Xavier had led by 51 points, had seen all 11 available scholarship players score, and had blocked eight shots with an almost minimal effort. There will be bigger challenges this year for the Musketeers, and there will be adversity along the way. Last night though, the season started as it should when a high major plays against a low major. Basketball is finally back.
- How much Dee can we give them? Very mature phrasing of this question aside (thanks, Joel!), the answer was not much. Dee started and played 20 minutes, but spent the game drifting on the periphery. Thankfully, the game didn't require his services all that much and Brandon Randolph (4/2/5) and Larry Austin Jr. (2/1/1) were both serviceable in his absence. Still, this team will need Davis at the helm to have significant success this season.
- Who is the shooting guard? Coach Mack felt like he needed a different two guard after Brandon Randolph's cameo in the exhibition. Randolph played well in 15 minutes in relief of Dee Davis, and Remy Abell (5/3/4) logged 23 minutes as the off guard. Abell is currently a cut above anyone else who would play the two in terms of team rebounding and defense, and probably has the spot locked down for now.
- Which James Farr will arrive? The one who apparently inherited Semaj Christon's legs. Farr (2/4/2) cramped up at various points and was limited to 17 minutes from which it is hard to draw any conclusions. Farr did start the game, though it is hard to see him continuing to hold a spot above the irrepressible Jalen Reynolds (16/5/1).
Tweet of the Game:
@BannersParkway they could challenge Kentucky's platoon system— Mesa Mei (@mesa_mei) November 15, 2014
Former Xavier tennis star, and All Big East performer, Mesa Mei sees good things in the future for Xavier's depth. To be considered for Tweet of the Game (which comes with literally no prize at all!) just send us a tweet @bannersparkway during or immediately after the game.