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Water Cooler Takes: Sometimes it takes more than hustle

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Xavier fought to the bitter end, but simply didn’t have the talent on hand to win the game.

NCAA Basketball: Xavier at Providence
This guy was a monster again last night.
Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

There is a difference between what you know before a game and perception during it. Before last night’s game, there is likely no member of Xavier Nation that would have told you that the Musketeers had much of a chance on the road without Trevon Bluiett. Come game time, Bluiett was in a walking boot and it seemed natural to assume that Xavier would put up a valiant fight but come up short. When that is exactly what happened, though, the hot takes came thick and fast. A ten point lead vanishing in the blink of an eye probably contributed to that, but this game was indicative of the new injury forced reality. Nothing more, nothing less.

Providence also just beat a full strength Butler

This has somehow gotten lost in the sackcloth and ashes following last night’s loss. The last game the Friars played was a win over nationally ranked and #24 KenPom team, Butler. Providence runs hot and cold, but is it any surprise that a team that was coming off that big of a win over a team that just scored 110 last night was up for the challenge of a team missing three starters?

Xavier’s offense has no focal point

And those starters (Edmond Sumner, Trevon Bluiett, and Myles Davis) were the top three returning scorers from last year. Argue however much you’d like on what Davis had added this year, there is no question that Xavier was counting on him for this time of year. Even assuming that contingency could be handled, the Musketeers were hardly prepared for the next two keystones of the team to also crumble. In the last four minutes of the first half while Providence was climbing back into the game, Xavier simply had no one to throw the ball to to get a bucket. Quentin Goodin was hesitant to shoot, JP Macura is perhaps the best complimentary piece in the Big East but can’t make his own shot consistently, and the post players are inconsistent and depend on service. When X needed a score, their best scorers were on crutches or in a boot.

A moment here, to point out that Rashid Gaston was a horse last night. Gaston played 30 minutes despite a constant pummeling, went for 19/14/0, and shot 8-10 from the floor. Providence pushed him outside or double teamed him when he was on the blocks, which actually just served to accentuate even more how much Xavier needed someone who could work off him.

Don’t (completely) blame JP

Last year’s Big East sixth man of the year thrived when he could come off the bench and provide a change of pace and focus. Last night showed the limitations when he becomes the ostensible focus of the offense. Providence knew JP couldn’t rest and also knew that he would have to shoulder most of the scoring load, so they simply ran athlete after athlete at him and dared him to make something happen. When the threes didn’t go (Macura was 1-7), The Friars were free to sag off and force JP to try something special to score. He wasn’t bad, 5-11, inside the arc, but his efficiency rating of 85 speaks to his struggles.

A lot of that rating comes from JP’s six turnovers. For some reason, it seems as if JP has taken it upon himself to make not just the routine pass, but the sensational one. This led to one turnover when going behind the back in traffic and one when throwing a one hand pass off the dribble. JP used 33% of Xavier’s possessions and committed 35% of their turnovers. That’s not good.

There’s still a lot of fight left in this squad

It’s too basic and not really indicative of much to simply add in the totals of missing players, but it isn’t difficult to look at the score line and see where Trevon Bluiett could have made 12 points of difference. That’s in large part because Xavier fought tooth and nail for the second straight game to get what they could. The utter stupidity of the idea that the team had somehow quit should have been soundly dispelled by a second straight game where the Musketeers grabbed at least 50% of their own misses and refused to just go away even once the game was decided. With three minutes left, it looked like X might lose by 20, instead it was 12. That difference may be academic, but it speaks to the fact that no player was content to go quietly into that good night.

Coach Mack is just fine

But that scorching hot take nonsense was followed this game by an avalanche of people blaming Coach Mack. No one proffered much evidence to suggest that he had chased Myles off campus, been in the car with Eddie Ekiyor, taken a bat to Edmond’s or Kaiser’s knee, or worked some dastardly scheme to work Cipro into Trevon’s food, but there he was shouldering the blame anyway. After all, it was Coach Mack’s six or seven man rotation that finally ran out of gas against a team that Great Coach Ed Cooley somehow took 20 minutes to tell to run. (How that wasn’t Providence’s plan from the off defies explanation).

Coach Mack can take the blame for some things. Perhaps he should have found some way to force feed Xavier’s only real offensive weapon, Rashid Gaston. Maybe he should have stayed man to try to keep Kyron Cartwright out of the lane. Beyond that though, what else was he to do? Kaiser Gates was in immediate foul trouble, Tyrique Jones and Sean O’Mara were at various levels of ineffective, Malcolm Bernard was 2-8, and the team was 8-17 from the line. All of those things are almost totally out of control of the defending National Coach of the Year during the game. Instead of unfounded criticism, it might do some malcontents good to look at what Coach Mack has managed to do with the shell of the team he has left.