This was almost the same script as Xavier’s previous win, which is troubling. The Muskies once again were the superior team early, holding a 43-28 lead a little more than midway through the first half. From that point forward, it was a really mediocre showing for the home team. Xavier couldn’t stop Evansville from scoring, especially from behind the arc, where they shot over 50% after posting a 6-24 mark in their opener against Illinois.
Evansville brought it all the way back, just like IUPUI did, eventually briefly taking the lead. Xavier managed to pull it together enough to feed the ball inside to their dominant pair there and get the lead back to double-figures, but they never buried the game like they should have. Instead, it was all the way down to the wire, and Xavier finally iced it from the line in a game that should have been done way earlier.
Xavier’s defense is a shambles
Illinois completely took Evansville apart on the defensive end, holding them to 25% shooting from deep and a TO rate of 31.6%. Xavier did none of that, making Evansville look like a team full of Steve Nash clones of various shapes and sizes. The Purple Aces held onto the ball well and used it to great affect, shooting about as well from beyond the arc as Xavier did from the line through most of the game. If X can’t run Evansville off the arc, I’m probably going to go ahead and skip the Marquette game.
There might be a leadership vacuum
It’s hard to tell from a position outside the team, but it looks like Xavier might need Dante Jackson to suit back up. While the Muskies were frittering away a 15-point lead and in the points in time after, Naji Marshall went to the bench with foul trouble, Q got himself ejected on an indisputable flagrant-2 call after he bonked the ball off of an opponent’s head for no reason, and nobody seemed to be circling the wagons. Kyle Castlin made winning plays, but it might be time for someone to step up in a vocal role.
The post may be the answer
I know these aren’t the toughest teams Xavier is going to face all year, but the Muskies had the beating of everyone in the post so far. Zach Hankins scored on a couple of nice pick-and-roll lobs and flashed nice footwork around the block, and Tyrique was just too much of a man for Evansville to handle, flirting with a 20-20 double-double. There will be taller and tougher opponents in the future, but the Xavier post men showed out today.
This is what we should have expected
Xavier has talent on the roster, but a lot of it is either adjusting to a new role or flat-out new to this level. Meanwhile, the man trying to put it all together is a rookie head coach finding his way on the fly. The early returns haven’t been encouraging, but keep in mind that this is far from a finished product. The best is definitely still to come for this group.