This wasn't a game that Xavier looked like winning coming in. Our preview broke down all the numbers and, frankly, there is a reason Villanova is sixth in the nation and being talked about as a national championship contender. A couple of hours on KenPom, Statsheet, ESPN, and a couple of other reference sites just confirmed the feeling that the Musketeers were outclassed. Xavier was facing a team that was going to heave from deep all night, cherish the ball, drop from a man into some sort of zone hybrid, and let James Bell run rampant if he could.
Somehow, that information missed the Xavier coaching staff. I've long been a defender of Coach Mack, and I still will be, but what has happened the last two games is borderline unforgivable. After a complete egg at home with a week to prepare, traveling to Philadelphia on 48 hours rest was going to cause some issues, but this, this was almost incomprehensible. Xavier lacked resolve inside, lost shooters on defense, was sloppy on offense, seemed to have no cohesive plan, and looked to have lost all will to fight with ten minutes still to play in the game. How that happens, at this level of basketball, strains credulity.
Before the snow braving butts had hit the seats, Nova was up 9-0 on a combination of things they very much love to do. Two jumpers from Ryan Arcidiacono, a runout layup, and a three pointer and Xavier was down big early. JayVaughn Pinkston hit another three less than three minutes later and the score was 14-4. Bewilderingly, Xavier had stepped back off of three point shooters, or at least failed to challenge hard, on both of Pinkston's threes. Pinkston isn't a gunner, but even he shoots from deep. The Musketeers didn't challenge, and they paid. That would become a theme.
It wasn't just bad defense though, after one quarter of the game had been played, Xavier's possessions had gone like this: Turnover, turnover, miss, turnover, miss, miss, Stainbrook dunk, miss, miss, turnover, miss, miss, Christon jumper, turnover, Farr jumper, turnover, miss, miss, turnover, miss. "We came out fumbling on the offensive end," was Coach Mack's analysis of that. What he failed to mention was whether Xavier had any plan other than hoping Myles Davis (1-5 from the floor and utterly bereft of confidence) knocked down some early shots. Davis did make it 20-12 with eight to play in the first, but that was it from him.
I mention Myles Davis (3/1/2) because he played 26 minutes, the most he has since the overtime win over BGSU. In that time, he was bad. Justin Martin (13/2/0) was limited by foul trouble, more on that later, and that forced Mack's hand in playing Davis and Brandon Randolph (1/2/1). In a combined 41 minutes, the two freshmen did absolutely nothing of consequence. Despite that, James Farr (6/1/0) played only nine minutes. It wasn't the defense that the freshmen were playing either, because both of them got backdoored for easy buckets. With Xavier in desperate need of offense, their most likely instant contributor remained anchored to the bench while Randolph spurned shot after shot and Davis simply missed them.
That topic deserves a little more time, and this seems as good a place as any. Brandon Randolph is handy with the ball, quick in the open floor, and excellent on his right hand in the paint. Unfortunately, I'm not the only one who knows that. Randolph frequently caught the ball tonight with a defender sitting five or six feet off of him. Matt Stainbrook doesn't get that kind of room on the perimeter. Rather than shoot to keep the defense honest, Randolph was content to back rotate the ball and allow two defenders to sit on Xavier's best offensive option. Randolph offers nothing if he's not willing to take that shot. His defense is mediocre on the ball and poor off of it, he can't rebound (that's his genes fault, not his), and he isn't going to run the point with Christon on the floor. If he can't/won't shoot, the scholarship problem becomes a bit easier to solve.
Back in Philadelphia, it was Justin Martin who threatened to make this a game. Because of a solid half of defense (and there would only be one), Xavier was within six at the half. They were clinging by the very faintest of finger holds, but they were there. After a Wildcats score, Martin jarred consecutive threes with the look of studied nonchalance that only he can manage. Xavier was within three and looking like they may snap out of it. That quickly, Justin picked up his fourth foul, and not long after Villanova went on a 15-4 run that ended the game.
It's difficult to keep fighting when down 15 with ten minutes to play. Tonight, most of the Xavier players seemed to succumb the urge to simply quit. All credit is due to Semaj Christon (17/2/4) who fought and scrapped for all of the 37 minutes he played. Unfortunately, that effort stood in stark contrast to what the rest of his teammates had to offer today. For some reason, even cutting the lead to three at the conference leaders failed to provide much of a spark. Stainbrook continued to do his thing inside, but his game is more balletic than bulldozer. Isaiah Philmore (2/9/2) was a non factor, Farr brought the intensity he always does but rarely saw the floor, and, in a game against a team this skilled, Erik Stenger (0/1/0) is a constantly noticeable liability on both ends of the floor.
The lack of effort told on the defensive end, and the Musketeers swooned out of the game. Apparently having failed to use the halftime break for some emergency scouting, Xavier fell victim to the three point barrage that Villanova loves. James Bell went off as he shot warmup difficulty threes, Nova just kept shooting and hustling, and Xavier just looked more and more limp. Uninspired, apathetic, appalling, horrid, unconscionable, dreadful, embarrassing, systemic failure. You can choose your negative descriptor tonight and odds are you'll be right. If this team shows up again on Saturday, it's four losses in a row.
- Can Xavier survive the three point onslaught? A better question might be to ask whether Xavier would bother preparing for it. The answer to both, obviously, is no.
- Can Xavier make some three pointers? Yes, Xavier went 7-18 from deep, but they went 2-8 in the first half. After Martin pulled the Musketeers within three, the next made three pointers made the deficit 12, 12, and 15. So yes, some went down, but most of them didn't matter.
- Who else chips in? Justin Martin tried to step up, but he was limited to 15 minutes thanks to the officiating. In those 15 minutes, JMart scored 13 with the mixture of apparent apathy and panache that is his calling card. He was also called for two completely dreadful offensive fouls. One of the fouls was on a defender clearly inside the circle, and one of them (#3) was just clearly a block. No matter though, Martin committed his fifth foul with 7:57 to play when he plowed an innocent victim in Josh Hart under. That was called a block. As per the norm, the officiating was mystifying at best. Other than Martin, no one showed.
Earlier I said that I liked Coach Mack and would continue to defend him. That remains true, even after the cooling off break I took to finish writing this. The coaching staff at Xavier has interacted with us and the sports information department has been helpful from the jump. All that said, this kind of "effort" cannot continue without fingers being pointed at the guys in suits. The Musketeers are going to lose games, that's a part of basketball, but losing games when you look unprepared is not acceptable. I loathe the knee-jerk, call in radio, borderline brain dead, "wanted it more" trope that fans trot out when they lack any sort of actual knowledge, but did the Musketeers really look interested tonight? Do you remember a 50/50 ball they won? Do you remember someone crashing in and winning a rebound through sheer effort? I don't, and it's been awhile since I've seen that. That's concerning, and that's coaching.
Tweet of the game:
Isn't Justin Martin the guy that @BannersParkway is constantly lamenting about?— Chris Lane (@chrisjjlane) February 4, 2014
First, "lamenting" is a word that just doesn't get the usage it deserves. Secondly, yes, Justin Martin is enigmatic and occasionally frustrating, but our laments about him come from a place of love. This isn't a Jeff Robinson situation.
@BannersParkway and I felt Saturday was an unprepared team that lacked effort..... Embarrassing.— keltic (@keltic6) February 4, 2014
Keltic (can I call you Keltic?) the team you saw last Saturday was unprepared and lacking in effort. This was just that exact team, just on the road.