It's a measure of just how well this season has gone that a win that moves the team to 20-2 and to 18th in the KenPom is met mostly with grumbling about how poorly the team played. The team did play poorly last night, but in doing so they became the first 20 win team in the nation and may be moving themselves off the bubble according to ESPN. (Sadly, that's not a joke). These are the kinds of games that prompt calls to radio shows and a lot of irate ranting in the workplace though, so let's dive right in.
1. Jalen Reynolds is back to being effective.
St. John's very clearly was out to aggravate the big man last night. They bumped him, chirped at him after most plays, and tried to get under his skin. Jalen, showing some recently found maturity, didn't respond. Instead, he put up a fairly impressive 9/4/2 line in just 14 minutes. Yes, he managed to foul out in that time and that's not ideal, and yes, he went an appalling 1-8 from the line. However, it was the first time since January 19th that he had at least four fouls, and he was 7-10 from the line in his two most recent games. The problems are able to be fixed, the engagement and effort that Reynolds has show recently are the indication he's back on track.
2. Last night may have been Edmond Sumner's most encouraging game.
Sumner has been brilliant at points this season, but last night he showed a clearheadedness that often escapes people of his youth and talent. Ed has chased a couple of games recently looking for his shot, the 0-9 against Providence and 2-12 against Georgetown come to mind, but last night he didn't. Sumner played 26 minutes, only turned the ball over twice against high pressure, and had dunks for three of his four made field goals. Rather than look for his shot he protected the ball and took what the defense gave him. His reward was a very solid 10/3/4 line and a sigh of temporary relief from those afraid he was hitting the wall.
3. JP Macura isn't #TheMicrowave.
For one, Xavier Nation is better than that when it comes to nicknames. Vinnie Johnson was The Microwave, and every usage of it since then has reflected an unfortunate lack of imagination. Forcing nicknames, especially those based on a player nothing like JP, isn't a reflection of basketball knowledge.
For two, the media members pushing the idea are missing what JP brings to a game. Macura has only the fourth highest shots taken percentage on the team, Jalen, Trevon, and James Farr all shoot far more, Myles shoots about the same amount, so JP isn't a gunner. JP also gets on the offensive glass at the second highest rate of anyone on the team who isn't 6-10.. Finally, JP has the best assist to turnover ratio on the team. All that adds up to a very complete player that a glib and inaccurate nickname only shortchanges.
4. LAJ deserves to be back in the mix.
What do you say about this kid? I'll admit to having basically written him off, but since conference play started Larry has quietly amassed a 106.4 offensive efficiency, raised his assist rate to 27.4%, dropped his turnover rate to 23.1%, and posted a steal rate of 3.8%. Those numbers all compare favorably to those of Dee Davis as a sophomore. No, Larry isn't nearly the shooting threat Dee was as a sophomore, but he shoots 5% better inside the arc than Dee did at the same point. All that to say that LAJ has made himself into exactly what he needs to be, a steady backup point guard who can keep Edmond Sumner from having to play 30 minutes per game.
5. Chris Mullin isn't any closer to figuring this thing out.
If you know what St. John's plan was last night, please let me know. This Red Storm team played in manner reminiscent of Steve Lavin's teams. They scored when they ran, played defense well when they ran and jumped, and took terrible shots as a matter of routine. Most troubling to SJU fans has to be the fact that the team looked like they'd never even heard of the concept of a 1-3-1 zone. Every team playing Xavier should know it is coming and have a plan. The first time that X went to the zone in the second half, the St. John's player with the ball literally stopped and stared. That's not a sign of good coaching. Neither is sitting on the scorer's table like a carefree kid on a swing. Aside from the fact that he was repeatedly told by the officials not to do it, it's just really weird.
6. The officials aren't getting better.
Gary Prager, please step forward. After Felix Balamou picked up his first tech for grabbing Jalen Reynolds after a dunk and then yelling at an official, Prager refused to take any real action against him. In one sequence with James Farr at the line, Prager warned Balamou three times to quit shoulder bumping Xavier players. Each time, Balamou did it again. Prager, then managed to make a #RefShow out of not giving Balamou another tech. For this game we were back up to 48 fouls being called in 40 minutes without any sort of consistency in what is called. Once again, some national oversight would help with this, but the NCAA is years, possibly decades, behind the curve.