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Finding the Positives

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Time to get the heads up, there are still plenty of things to like about this team.

NCAA Basketball: Creighton at Xavier
Good Lord
Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

The doom and gloom has been heavy for the last eight days. A blowout at Villanova was compounded by a road loss at the despised Butler and then a home loss to Creighton. Coach Mack thinks the media is burying his team, the polls are going to be unkind, and projections of a two seed have turned into something down on the dreaded 7/10 line. It’s not been a good week to be Xavier fan.

It’s not healthy to simply sit and think on the negative. According to the director of the American Institute for Cognitive Therapy, sitting and thinking about what isn’t going well can lead to depression and, eventually, even possibly damage the way your brain functions. There’s no need to let your favorite college basketball team be the cause of all of that, so here’s some positive things to think about on one of those lovely January days when the ceiling is 1000 feet and the snow and rain mix freely in the air.

Edmond Sumner

The young man isn’t a great three point shooter, but he’s doing almost literally everything else. 2151 players in DI have played at least 40% of the minutes available in their team’s games this year. Among that already somewhat select group Ed is 430th in block rate. That’s Xavier’s point guard blocking more shots than most power forwards do. The last two games Sumner has clearly become aggravated late as he team struggles and tried to just take the game over.

When he couldn’t score as well against Creighton, he grabbed six rebounds and dished out five assists instead. That landed him with a 27.4% assist rate overall and 30.9% in Big East play. In case you’re wondering, that’s elite. He also gets fouled more than anyone else in the conference and is, quietly, knocking down 75% of free throws since the Eastern Washington game. (His backup, by the way has lowered his turnover rate to 18.6% in conference play). The reasons to be positive start with the whip thin kid throwing down hammers that leave butter soft bigs like Toby Hegner cringing.

Praise Jesus, Trevon Bluiett drove

Trevon went 4-5 inside the lane against the Bluejays, which was a large part of the reason that he scored the most he had since he ripped Providence for 22 back on December 28th. Not coincidentally, he also shot 10 free throws and dished out three assists. Xavier is almost immeasurably better when Bluiett gets into the lane on offense. No, the threes didn’t drop on Monday, but they may at some point. Until then, it’s good to see Xavier’s leading scorer taking the correct steps to fix what’s been wrong with him recently.

The coaching is still good

Ignoring the technical that came after a truly explosively profane outburst, Coach Mack mostly pulled the right strings against Creighton. The turnovers are infuriating, but it’s absurd to think that the coach needs to say to JP “hey, when you do this dribble handoff, make sure it’s to someone on your team.” Xavier did a great job setting their quicker players up against Isaiah Zierden or Creighton’s slower footed forwards. A pandemic of flopping somewhat negated that advantage, but, again, that’s hardly the fault of the coach (or of the guys who rightly assumed the refs would get the call right). The team was in position to win against the Jays if they’d executed at the line. Expect Coach Mack to have them ready to exact a manner of transferred revenge on Georgetown.

There are plenty of teams that want to be where we are

Xavier is 25th in the KenPom, 13-5 overall, and has four top 100 wins already. As Joel pointed out in the comment section, of Xavier’s 12 remaining games, not including the BE tournament, seven are against top 50 teams and three more come against the top 100. Plus, there’s two get right games against DePaul in there. Think Indiana, UC, Dayton, VCU, Pitt, or Michigan State wouldn’t take Xavier’s resume and remaining chances right now? Of course they would.

The team isn’t clicking yet

Do you think that Trevon Bluiett is going to stay in this slump? Do you think that Myles Davis will literally not make a shot all year? Do you think that one of the nation’s best players at protecting the ball is going to average five turnovers a game for the rest of the year? Do you think Kaiser Gates is never going to put it together and is, instead, the tallest spot up shooter in Xavier history? Do you not realize that only one player in the nation gets on the offensive glass better than Rashid Gaston? Do you think the team is going to never feed their center with the EFG of 71% in conference play? Do you think that 32% will be the peak of the three point shooting? If you genuinely think all of those things are true, or even half of them are, then maybe you should prepare for a life of cognitive deficits.