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Water Cooler Takes: Xavier looks shaky at best

Last night was another win, but it definitely didn’t make anyone feel better about this team.

NCAA Basketball: Wake Forest at Xavier
Odds are this missed. They all miss.
Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

It was probably a measure of Coach Mack’s happiness with this win in a game named for his mentor when he intimated to the assembled press that Kaiser Gates was playing as tentatively as if he’d had his leg amputated. Usually, winning coaches aren’t given to that level of public negativity about their team, but it was hard to blame Xavier’s head man last night. The Musketeers started well and built the entire winning margin in the first ten minutes before stumbling home in a manner that is beginning to become an alarming pattern. Tomorrow, when everyone else is discussing the bowl and another week of professional concussion ball, you’ll have these scorching hot takes about a team that somehow keeps looking worse and worse while winning.

Free throws should be easy

Coach Mack can deflect all he likes, Xavier has a serious free throw problem right now. When 12-18 seems like a step in the right direction, things are grim. A 3-6 and two missed front ends down the stretch very nearly cost Xavier the game yesterday. I’m certain the team is working on making shots, but all of the gym work in the world is useless if they can’t make it translate to game situations. How long until teams just starting grabbing Xavier shooters with more frequency and making them win games from the line?

The freshman are not producing

Quentin Goodin is averaging 3.4/1.5/1.8 on 50% shooting and 46% from the line. Tyrique Jones is getting 2.5/3.7/.3 on 46% from the floor and 25% from the line. Lest you think those aren’t tempo adjusted numbers, Goodin’s offensive rating is 85, and Jones’ is 92. Goodin is sporting a turnover rate of 37% and Jones is committing nine fouls for every 40 minutes he plays. You can spin the rest of their numbers however you’d like, those two are simply not getting it done right now.

But the rest of the bench is careful not to outshine them

Coach Mack’s diagnosis of transability for Kaiser Gates most likely comes from the fact that he’s shot 17 three pointers and only taken four shots from inside the arc. Gates is currently sporting a glittering .286/.250/.235 shooting line and is yet to establish himself on the glass. To his credit, he isn’t turning the ball over. Sean O’Mara started the season well but has seen his offensive efficiency fall to 108 after not making a field goal for two straight games. To help alleviate that offensive slide, he’s grabbed four rebounds in that same span. There’s a reason Xavier’s main five are playing so much, and it’s because they aren’t getting help from anywhere.

It’s not as early as it was, but it’s still early

All of that said, and there’s plenty more that could be, like, maybe stop throwing the ball all over creation and maybe try some post entry passes, we still aren’t to conference play. Xavier has a get right game against Eastern Washington before Providence and the annual tilt with Georgetown on New Year’s Eve. Myles Davis is returning, which will lend a cooler head to help with ball handling and maybe let Edmond Sumner rest a bit. Kaiser Gates will come to grips with the fact that his leg is ok, and surely Q and Tyrique will turn the flashes they’ve shown into consistent production at some point.

It can get lost in all the hype that this is a rebuilding season for Xavier. Maybe not in the traditional sense, but this team has played largely with eight, fully half of whom weren’t on the team last year. The cohesion and aggression that set the team apart during last year’s torrid start come in part from familiarity with teammates. Rashid Gaston is growing into his role, Ed showed some flashes of his old bounce last night, and JP seems to be coming out of a terrible shooting stretch. Keep the faith, Musketeers fans, there’s a long time left for this team to get better.

I hope.