Despite all the evidence piling up to support the conclusion, I can't entirely believe that this season is already dead and buried for Xavier. Neither can Paul Scruggs, who - if the internet is to be believed - called a players-only meeting after Xavier's disaster at Missouri.
Assuming a win against Detroit Mercy - and if we don't, you might as well start counting days until pitchers and catchers report - the Muskies will be 8-5 with no signature wins when the curtain drops on the non-con. That is, obviously, less than ideal.
With fewer huge wins available in Bog East play than normal, Xavier is going to have to pull out the ol' Costco card and get wins in bulk. In this year's league with that non-conference performance, it's possible that 20 or even 21 wins might not be enough for Xavier, meaning that an 11-7 or 12-6 mark in the BE is the bare minimum necessary. Results so far haven't been promising in that regard. Here's what I'd change:
1. Run more 2-3 zone
You can’t man up with Welly on the floor, but he is part of our best offensive lineup (Q, Scruggs, Naj, Welly, big). That gives us a slasher/distributor, a scorer, a slasher/scorer, and a shooter around a big.
Without Welly’s spacing, the offense is struggling. Kyle Castlin, for all the Winning Plays he makes, isn't changing the shape of defenses. Ryan Welage does, because his defense can't help off on drives and can't double the post. His presence alone asks difficult questions of the defense.
I know a 2-3 is a defense for old men at the YMCA, but I think that's what we've come to. If the concern is that X will get bombed to death from deep, well, welcome to the current reality anyway. The defense already sucks, and the offense is crying out for a spot up shooter. It's time to admit what we are and go zone.
2. Get the ball out of Naji’s hands in the full court
He overdribbles and gets into bad situations where he turns the ball over. He needs to catch the ball within 22 or so feet and move downhill with purpose, not dribble the length of the court into blind alleys. Xavier needs a guy to bring the ball up and initiate some offense, and it has that in Quentin Goodin and Paul Scruggs. It is clear at this point that this is not an area in which Naj excels.
The early portions of this year have revealed Naji's limitations, and honestly that's fine. He isn't a gifted shooter from range, but he's very strong off the bounce at the rim and in the mid-range. He has looked for stretches this year like a guy who is trying to do too much. If he can grab the ball with some momentum and get within 12 or so feet of the bucket, he's really tough. If he is trying to go end to end against a defense that is already at least a bit set, he tends to get himself into trouble.
3. Have Naj and Q stop shooting threes
They’re a combined 25-103 from deep. That’s a free stop for defenses, who are treating it as such. If Xavier had an opponent launching from deep while making less than a quarter of them, you'd hope X would stand there and watch them do it. Opponents have by and large had the discipline to do that so far this season.
Let Paul, Welly, and Eli (if he’s still alive) shoot from deep. Naji and Q need to attack the paint. If the actually dangerous shooters are the ones lifting from deep, that will free up space in the middle for Q and Naji to drive. As long as there's not a reason for opponents to respect the guys shooting threes, driving lanes are going to be crowded and post space will be at a premium. Speaking of which...
4. Involve the big men
After Welly, the two most efficient offensive players on the team are Tyrique and Hanky. They need to be getting consistent touches to at least put defenses into rotation, open up lanes for slashers and catch and shoot opportunities for shooters. I'm not sure either of those guys will consistently dominate from inside, but they've earned consistent touches with their productivity so far. Put them in screen and roll action, work high-low, or just post them up, but they have to be getting the ball.
This is obviously not a panacea to the 71st ranked team in the KenPom. Whatever the strategy is, it needs to be executed with focus and conviction for 40 minutes, and that has been lacking at times this season. This team is not good enough to drift through portions of games and then flip a switch and dominate. The first dozen games of this year have been ample proof of that.
Xavier could implement every one of these changes or whatever Coach Steele and the staff are cooking up and still win like 18 games and miss the NIT. If they do, though, at least they'll go down punching rather than whatever that was we watched last night.