This was not a week without topics to talk about for Xavier. The team went 1-1 with a road loss to Villanova and home win over Marquette. The games seemed almost a sidenote though, to the massive changes that Coach Chris Mack made to the lineup before that game in Philadelphia.
1. We talkin' 'bout practice
Allen Iverson would undoubtedly not agree Coach Mack's practice effort based method of team selection and, after the first four minutes against Villanova, it would be hard to argue with that. JP Macura started both games last week, but Larry Austin Jr. only last the 20 minutes for 0/0/3 that he played at 'Nova. The next game it was Remy Abell who was inexplicably left out of the starting lineup in favor of Macura before playing the entire second half. Abell went for 12/1/0 on 4-7/4-6-0-0 in that half and hoped ended this foolishness with the starting lineups.
2. Remy Abell is the best player on this team
Abell didn't start against Villanova before coming in and immediately being victimized the inexplicable refereeing. It's not complete coincidence that Xavier got dominated in a game in which Abell was very limited. The next game Abell played 33 minutes and led a furious comeback with the four three pointers he buried in the second half. Abell scored nine straight Xavier points (starting at :43 on the below video), only turned the ball over once, and exuded a confidence the team had been lacking.
For the season Abell is 20th in the nation in offensive efficiency, 23rd in effective field goal percentage, 20th in true shooting, has a turnover rate of only 12.4%, is shooting 61% inside the arc, and 44.9% behind it. Those are the numbers of an elite player and they come attached to the best perimeter defender on the team.
3. The perimeter defense is still terrible
This week Villanova and Marquette combined to go 22-52 from behind the arc against the Musketeers. That's a truly alarming 42.3%. More concerning is the fact that in two games teams somehow lifted 52 three pointers against Xavier's defense. As we have mentioned before, teams control opponent's three point attempts far more than they control percentage. Xavier is, by some miracle, managing to be awful at controlling both. For the season teams make 36.1% of their threes against Xavier and take 36.3% of their shots from there. Both of those numbers linger near the bottom 100 of the nation, far below where any high-major should be. Most troubling is the fact that Xavier is somehow trending in the wrong direction.
4. James Farr remains an enigma
The big man doesn't have to be a major offensive force on this team, but it's undeniably obvious that more scoring options make a team more difficult to guard. Two weeks ago, James scored 17 points in two games and shot 6-9 from the field. This week, he was 3-8 from the floor and scored a grand total of six points. The week Farr scored well he only grabbed five rebounds. Last week, against Villanova and Marquette, he grabbed 13. It's almost impossible to project what Farr is going to do from week to week, and Jalen Reynolds start against the Golden Eagles could mean he's moving into the power forward role.
5. It's not time to panic
At 2-3 after the Villanova debacle it was easy to Xavier as hanging on the brink. It was even easier after the first half against Marquette was an unmitigated disaster. Now, Xavier is 3-3 in the second best conference in the nation and has a chance to grab a great win on the road. Momentum, almost incomprehensibly, is back on the side of the Musketeers. It's important to remember that no one thought this was a Final Four team coming into the season. Seven new players are on the roster, there is one point guard, and freshman are handling a good deal of the heavy lifting. Xavier is a tournament team, and they're a team that can be scary if they get hot, but it's important to keep reactions in line with those expectations. This team will be there in March, and then anything can happen.