I tweeted during this eventual win that the game was both very encouraging and mildly disturbing. What was never in question was whether Xavier was the better team on the court. They were, and after about 30 minutes to go that was really disputed. The question was whether Xavier could translate that clear gap in ability to a clear gap on the floor. The score indicates that they eventually did, but the steps in getting there weren't as clear as they could have been. Works in progress are often like that.
First, the good. Xavier hasn't scored against a team of even this caliber like this since putting 108 on Virginia back in 2008. Long Beach was in the KenPom top 100 coming into the game, and the Musketeers scored 97 while shooting 53% from the floor and never seeming even mildly stressed on the offensive end. The ball moved with a fluidity not seen in recent years and it ended with five Xavier players in double figures and nine on the scoreboard. The Musketeers assisted on 24 of 35 made field goals, shot 78% from the line, and scored almost at will on a Long Beach defense that didn't look good coming in and lived up (down?) to that billing.
Now the bad. Xavier won this game because Long Beach is a decent opponent, but not a good one. The Beach shot 54.7% from the floor and also scored with an alarming ease. Not quite Xavier's level, they couldn't turn this game into the barnburner they played with BYU, but they stayed too close for too long. A team that can play real defense and has any ability to score will surely trouble the Musketeers based on this evidence. Quite simply, the 49ers either are going to have one of the nation's most underrated offenses or Xavier was pretty poor on defense last night.
The four times Xavier's defense was as inefficient last year as it was against Long Beach State came against Seton Hall, Tennessee, NC State, and Villanova. All four of those games were losses. In fact in the 12 games as defensively bad (figured by defensive efficiency) as this in the 2013-14 season, Xavier lost ten. Long Beach looked in trouble at 17-8 and with Xavier already burying threes. Three minutes later, the game was tied. Xavier then pushed the lead to 21 in the first half only to watch it sink back to 13 at halftime and back as close as eight right after the break. The defense renowned for zipping 'em up seemed was instead leaving an opponent very much alive and kicking.
Thankfully, Xavier's defensive issues didn't come with the kind of offensive implosion that led to last year's 10 and 11 minutes scoring droughts. Against The Beach, Xavier simply kept pouring in the points. Trevon Bluiett (20/8/5) looked completely unstoppable at times and was somehow even more impressive than in his debut. Two games make a sample size far to small to base much more than wishes on, but Bluiett has been sensational so far. Fellow freshman JP Macura (17/2/1) may have most symbolized Xavier's night by eschewing defense in favor of simply outscoring whomever he was theoretically guarding. The swing forward showed that he is capable than far more than just spot up shooting, but he'll have to shore up his defense in order to see more than the 13 minutes he accrued tonight.
One place Xavier didn't struggle on defense was in the post. I had opined in the preview that Xavier should own the paint and, at least defensively, that was true. LBSU forwards played 77 minutes and in that time managed a line of 21/12/6. Matt Stainbrook (11/7/2) gets a good deal of deserved credit for his offensive acumen, but his smarts combined with a lot of effort, some of it effective, from James Farr (8/4/0) made up for the fact that Jalen Reynolds (4/6/0) managed only ten minutes. Farr, especially, may still be learning the basic concepts of defense, but the way he worked last night has to be encouraging to the coaching staff. Reynolds, on the other hand, seemed determined to wrest his title of Most Vicious Fouler back from Sean O'Mara (0/0/0 in five minutes).
Eventually, Xavier's relentless offense won this game. Myles Davis (15/1/2) had a stretch of nine straight points, Remy Abell (13/2/3) was 1-6 from behind the arc but shot 50% on the game thanks to an array of moves in and around the rim. With five minutes to go, a Bluiett three off an assist from Brandon Randolph (3/0/2) finally broke the 49er resistance and the Musketeers pulled away to go 2-0 on the year. Sometimes works in progress struggle on one end of the floor or the other, but they don't always struggle and then win by 23. This team has the ability to make some noise.
- How much Dee Davis? Dee played 28 minutes last night, racked up nine assists, and didn't look at all like his ribs were bothering him offensively. Defensively Dee did seem a little leery to really throw his body into people, but the whole this game was a very encouraging one from the senior guard.
- Where does Edmond Sumner fit? Nowhere yet. On most teams missing someone of Sumner's caliber could be devastating. Xavier has instead run through a rotation of five guards who are getting double digit minutes and been just fine. Sumner coming back will be a huge boost to the team, he's an immensely talented player, but right now the Musketeers are doing ok without him.
- Will the pace matter? The Musketeers took excellent care of the ball, turning it over only seven times (10.4% of possessions) as opposed to Long Beach's 15 turnovers (22.4%). Still, The Beach ran when they could and it's hard not to look at transition defense as one of the reasons that Xavier's overall defensive numbers were a bit alarming. The Musketeers just flat out lost guys on the run sometimes last night. That's a growing pain, and one good coaching will fix.
Tweet of the game:
It was a runaway last night:
Grow facial hair? RT @BannersParkway: IS THERE ANYTHING JP MACURA CAN'T DO?— Brian Leibforth (@bleibforth) November 19, 2014