Xavier fans can be forgiven for wondering what their computers numbers would look like should they have lost Tuesday night. After 17 minutes (and 20, really) Xavier was playing terrible basketball and looked for all the world like they were going to take their first loss on the year. Of course, that didn't happen and the Musketeers are now 12-0 heading into Big East play. While Wake didn't beat Xavier, they did show how it can be done. Last night may not have been a loss for the Musketeers, but it may pave they way for another team to try to copy Wake's strategy and beat X. Here are three things that happened last night that the Musketeers are going to have to address:
1. Extremely high pace
Xavier has been playing faster than normal this year, but they haven't seen anything like the first half the Demon Deacons threw at them. In those first frenetic 20 minutes, Xavier shot the ball 34 times, turned it over nine, and managed eight offensive rebounds. Xavier looked out of sorts with all the running and that was reflected in their .294/.200/.750 shooting line and their second lowest points output in a half. The 77 possessions in the game equaled the most of the season for Xavier, but unlike Dayton, Wake was extremely aggressive in the half court and forced X into a turnover rate over 30%. That is, obviously, quite bad. The faster Wake went, the more Xavier tried to speed up as well. Edmond Sumner may be good, but his lapses were especially apparent in that first 20 minutes.
2. Launch from deep
This one comes as no surprise. Xavier's packline has been very effective at closing down three point shooters this year, but it still gives up an unholy number of attempts. Basically, Coach Mack is willing to gamble that no team can either a) find enough open looks or b) make enough contested looks to really hurt Xavier on defense. The problem is that sometimes teams get hot and do either one or both of those. In the first half, Wake went 5-12 from deep and shot 48.3% from the floor. Wake isn't a great shooting team, but the Musketeers' leaving Bryant Crawford unchecked was relatively unforgivable. Crawford is a very good three point shooter that Xavier let find gaps. Were he not also prone to moments of complete loss of control, he may very well have destroyed them.
3. Get to the line
A tip of the cap here to Danny Manning, who coached his team up well. Manning knew that Xavier's bigs were foul prone and that the game would be called tightly. Accordingly, he sent his team into the lane with the intent to draw fouls. That's what good coaches do. His charges repaid him by going 10-10 from the line in the first half and 23-27 on the game. Had Xavier's defense not hit full Zip Em Up in the second half, that would have been more than enough to get the win. Manning's strategy will be replicated by teams that have guards quick enough to get into Farr and Reynolds off the bounce. If those teams knock down their free throws, they'll beat Xavier. I recognize that seems like a gross oversimplification, but the fact is that Xavier's propensity to foul is going to cost them a game in which they give away free points.
Wake Forest also made every attempt to instigate an ugly, rivalry type game with Xavier, and that's what they got. As the almost cartoonishly hackish piece in the Fayetteville Observer noted, this game had a much less sterile feel than the usual Wake home contest. Xavier is going to have to deal with teams doing whatever they can to get a win this year. Simple gameplanning won't be enough for lesser squads to hang around, so gamesmanship will come into play. There's nothing wrong with that, it's part of the game. What Xavier has to do is not let it get to them. The 42-16 run quieted Wake Forest, but the reaction to the original chippiness wasn't great.
The 1-3-1 is no longer just something we see with JP on the court. Xavier's propensity for running it with any personnel package now means that some guys are still adjusting. Wake took advantage of this by loading one side and making the wing player decide whether to cover the corner or a shooter just above foul line extended. Quick rotation will get looks against that defense, but that's a risk the Musketeers are currently willing to take.
Who fits the bill?
Looking ahead to see who Xavier faces that can push the pace, shoot from deep, and both get to and convert from the line doesn't exactly leave a large pool of contestants. Butler stands out as a possible problem. They shoot 37% from deep, get to the line relatively well, and shoot 72% once they are there. Their adjusted tempo is right around 71 though, so they may not be able to force Xavier too far out of comfort there. Creighton shoots 39.1% from deep and sprints to only 15.2 seconds per possession, which is insanely fast. What they don't do is convert from the line at all, shooting only 66%.
Those are the teams that come the closest to a match for the three factors Wake used. Of course, there are myriad other ways games can be won, and sometimes teams just lose games they shouldn't. Still, if Wake laid the blueprint for beating the Musketeers by forcing the pace, shooting well from deep, and getting to the line, there aren't many other teams that can replicate it.