982 people have died on Ohio roadways this year. I lead this article off with that note because I saw that on the drive home and it occurred to me that may have been the most interesting part of the evening. You'll read a lot about Xavier not showing the requisite effort, not doing the little things well, and not looking at all interested in this game. All of that is true, and none of it really matters. There are times when simply being in an entirely different class than your opponent is the only thing that counts. That was the case tonight, and Xavier strolled past the Norse in a game it seemed they collectively could not have cared less about.
To say that no Xavier player put forth much effort would be unfair to what Trevon Bluiett (14/16/5) did on the glass tonight. While Jalen Reynolds (11/6/2) and James Farr (13/8/0) combined to only play 41 minutes, Bluiett logged 34 and absolutely hammered after defensive rebounds all night. It would also be unfair to the effort needed to win this game. This was not some sort of referendum on the team. Yes, a bit more flair would have been nice, but the Musketeers could afford to doze through this game and they did exactly that. Whether that kind of effort leaks over into the Thanksgiving tournament games or was just a reflection of college kids on the break week depends on how Coach Mack and his staff approach the next couple of days of practice.
This was the kind of game that it never felt like NKU was in and it never felt like Xavier could be bothered to bury. A large part of that was the Musketeers three point defensive apathy. We've consistently mentioned that defense has a much larger impact on three point attempts than on three point percentage. Tonight, Xavier let a much less talented team keep themselves in the game by jacking 22 threes and making nine of them. Xavier has been atrocious at defending the arc the last couple of years, and tonight was no exception to that rule. Credit to NKU for spacing and backscreening around the arc against the man and making JP Macura (2/0/2) chase shooters around the top of the 1-3-1. They had open shots and, for a lot of the night, they made them. Because of that, Xavier led by nine at the half and looked really unconvincing doing it.
Except unconvincing may not be the right word. There wasn't a soul in the Cintas that thought NKU was going to get back into the game. Xavier blew the lead out to 17 in the second half thanks mostly to the tireless efforts of Remy Abell (12/1/3) who was consistently in attack mode. Abell, and a 14-15 from the line, eventually salted the game away. Honestly, the specifics of this game are better left in the past. The effort wasn't pleasing and will certainly be addressed in some unpleasant practices. That doesn't mean there aren't more things to take away from the night's action.
Something is wrong in the paint:
Xavier is now shooting 44% from inside the arc. That's awful. Last year Xavier shot 53.7% on two point field goals, good for 14th in the nation. That 44% mark leaves them at 251st in the nation this year. That's so steep a drop I'm hesitant to even call it precipitous. Trevon was an anchor in going 3-10 tonight and Jalen was an even more horrid 2-8. In a snoozer over NKU, that works. It won't in the Big East.
JP Macura lives on energy:
Tonight there wasn't a lot of zip in the game, and there wasn't much zip in JP. The fan favorite was so listless that it looked as if he may have been under the weather. He attacked when he should have shot, threw an airball, missed two free throws, and in general looked almost lost on the court. In a game where the atmosphere lends itself to his maniacal energy, he's excellent. He needs to learn to bring that to the lesser occasions.
The bench post players aren't ready:
Nine minutes, two fouls, 0-3 from the floor, a turnover, and a rebound. That's what Makinde London, Kaiser Gates, and Sean O'Mara managed tonight. London didn't look terrible, but he also didn't shoot. Gates looked like an overeager puppy as soon as he came in. He was immediately left standing on a back cut, then he ran into a ballhandler 30 feet from the basket. The energy was undeniable, but it Gates out of position more often then it helped him. Finally, Sean O'Mara was the last one into the game and looked a lot like a player with his confidence at a low ebb. He was physical, but he was also tentative at the rim and couldn't seem to get his hands securely on the ball. All in all, those three won't be queuing up to watch the game film of this one.
Rebounding covers a multitude of ills:
Sometimes it's rebounding that goes when a team meanders through a game. This team, however, could fall out of bed and rebound. The DR%? An almost unheard of 86.8%. Throw in an OR% of 29.3% (which is actually below the season average) and you get the picture. The offensive rebounding wasn't quite as emphatic as normal, but Xavier still dominated on the glass all game.
- Is initiating the offense effecting Myles shot? It's clear that Coach Mack trusts Myles with the ball when things start to speed up a little bit on Edmond Sumner (12/5/3) and LAJ (2/2/1). Myles repays that by having an 8.8% TORate on the season. Tonight he rarely had to hip the ball and motion for everyone to calm down. He also shot 4-9 from the floor and 2-5 from deep. The sample size is small for this year, but Myles seems to shoot better from off the ball.
- Can JP keep it going? No. Macura just didn't have it tonight. He will explode again soon in a game where the stakes are a little higher. It seemed like the apathy that settled in the Musketeers tonight may have landed more heavily on JP than most.
- Can Xavier rest the big guns? Yes and no. As mentioned above, Reynolds and Farr got to rest a bit tonight. Unfortunately, Trevon did not. Abell and Myles Davis both also played over 30 minutes. They weren't 30 hard minutes like the Big East will bring, but they were miles on the legs. The guards had to play, because LAJ just cannot make himself enough of an offensive threat to merit long stretches of time. At some point he's going to have to try a jumper.
Tweet of the Game:
@BannersParkway I'm about to fall asleep I'm section 207— JP Gordon (@xavierjp) November 24, 2015
This wasn't the one to show your friends that you are trying to sell on the Musketeers. Keep it locked here all week as Xavier heads for the AdvoCare and the Bermuda Triangle that is Thanksgiving.