You can be forgiven if you sort of tuned out during this one. While there was some concern that Xavier would join their entire fanbase in looking past Wright State to the Shootout this weekend, that was quickly proven not to be the case. In some years this is the kind of game that the Musketeers would have staggered through, won by 12, and moved on. Since the NKU debacle though, Coach Mack has his squad firing on all cylinders regardless of the opponent.
The game did start a big ugly for the Musketeers, who actually looked like they were trying a bit too hard to begin with. That's a good problem to have, though, and it quickly resolved itself. After it took Xavier eight and half minutes to score the first 13 points, the floodgates opened. When the Raiders scored again it was 33-7 and the game was already over. A 25-0 run against a team that was outgunned coming in will do that. Wright State may have had designs of coming in and shocking the world (or the part of the world that realizes how good Xavier is), but they were dead and buried before the half time horn sounded.
A large part of that was down to Trevon Bluiett (22/11/2). At the intermission he already had 10 and eight and was looking like very much the best player on the floor. His three point barrage came in the second half where he went 4-5 from deep. Trevon's only miss from deep in the half came after he had buried two straight off the move and was looking for three in a row. The 22 points made a career high for Bluiett, but it is the 11 rebounds that speak to something more impressive. Last year Bluiett cracked double figures in rebounds once, with 12 in a game against DePaul, and had OR%/DR% splits of 6.4/11.8. This year he has double figure rebounds three times already and splits of 6.0/23.5. The 53 three point attempts have kept Trevon off the offensive glass, but not much of anything is keeping him off the defensive.
It's difficult to make a game that featured a 25-0 run in the first half into much of a contest, and Wright State never rose to that enormous challenge in this one. In the first four minutes Myles Davis (13/5/2) made three free throws, Jalen Reynolds (10/4/0) scored five points, and Trevon knocked in three three pointers. The 11-2 run to open the half essentially assured that garbage time would be a wide ranging construct. The lead hit 42 when Makinde London (3/2/1) buried a stepback three like he was Myles Davis with 12 minutes to play. The team paid attention for those 12 minutes, but even the most circumspect of fans had moved on to Saturday.
What does this game tell us before the Shootout?
For one, it tells us that the team is locked in right now. There wasn't a let down, this didn't look like a trap game, and Xavier came out aggressive. The players are almost certainly thinking about the biggest non-conference game on the calendar, but they didn't let them keep them from focusing on hammering an overmatched opponent. Coach Mack's comment when asked about his team after the game was telling: "I didn't like the defense the last three minutes." The coach allowed a half smile in to indicate he wasn't being completely serious, but it's noteworthy that in a complete rout he and the team recognize there is no time for letups.
This game also papered over a couple of cracks in Xavier. The team shot a woeful 39% inside the arc against a team that was allowing opponents to shoot over 52% coming in. That's bad. Jalen was 4-10 to run his season mark to 47.8%, James Farr (7/10/0) was 2-6, Edmond Sumner (3/2/3) was 1-5, LAJ (5/6/2) was 1-4, and Kaiser Gates (0/6/1) was 0-2. Those numbers are dreadful and they won't get the job done against a real team. Sumner was bodied around a lot in game that the officials were content to let run and probably should have been at the line more, but it's not as if UC is going to welcome him into the paint with loving arms. Xavier's interior offense is becoming a real issue.
So is the backup point guard position. More and more, it's Myles Davis who is handling those duties. LAJ's numbers were suprficially better against WSU, but he turned the ball over two more times. His turnover rate is now 37.6% compared to an assist rate of only 15.3%. Larry was also 1-4 from the floor and 3-6 from the line. He is, simply, not playing well right now. Xavier needs him to be steady, not dynamic, and take care of the ball. Once again, he failed to attempt a jumper. On the other hand, he tried perhaps the most audacious dunk attempt of the year, which was fun to watch. LAJ has a lot to add to this team, he just needs to take care of the ball. The Bearcats attack ballhandlers relentlessly and look to jump passing lanes when that guy panics. It's not a recipe for LAJ success.
To end on a positive note you have only to look at the three point shooting. In the last three games Xavier is 25-58 (43.1%) from deep. They are now shooting 36% behind the arc on the year. UC can be had from deep where they allow opponents to shoot 35.5%. They also allow opponents to get 35% of their shots up from deep, roughly in line with Xavier's offensive mark on the year. The Musketeers will get their looks, and recently they've been burying them.
-Can we get good Jalen? He didn't get hurt and he didn't foul out. That's good. He shot 4-10 from the floor and only had four rebounds. That's bad. I'd expect to see him raise his game for UC, but that could mean a lot more hacking. Jalen's going to have his hands full with Gary Clark, and Coach Mack was smart to rest him.
-Can Xavier continue dominating on the boards? Xavier had one fewer rebound than Wright State did points. That's not a misprint, nor is it a glitch in the stat system. So yes, Xavier dominated on the boards.
-How will Xavier set the defense? WSU still got up their three point looks, everyone does, but they didn't get very many comfortable ones. Xavier ran the 1-3-1 quite a bit and used Makinde London as another long body out there. In the man to man, the Musketeers were much better about closing down shooters early. Coach Mack's decision to double team the inbounder on baseline outs was yet another wrinkle in what is becoming one of the nation's best defenses.
We now turn fully over to Shootout coverage. The lead in game is over and Wright State did their job as a tune-up, now it's time to get serious.