Zach Hankins and Tyrique Jones were enormous last night. Not just in physical stature, which mattered, but in their play. Xavier’s two most efficient players not named Ryan Welage carried the team to a win that seemed to revitalize the team. In a combined 59 minutes of play, Xavier’s bigs put up a line of 42/20/4 on 15-23 from the floor and 12-14 from the line. It was a two man virtuoso performance that brought Xavier back from the brink of what seemed a sure loss. What is next to be seen is if the season can be rescued the same way.
For starters, it’s important to define the terms. This season cannot be saved to the tune of an at large berth unless Xavier does something crazy like run the table. What could happen is a system change that makes the Musketeers competitive going forward and maybe, just maybe, make a run in the Big East tournament.
For that to happen, X will have to make the double post work like it did last night. A lot of that came from the fact that the Musketeers turned the ball over four times last night for a rate of 6.1%. Obviously, touches thrown to the other team are touches that Tyrique and Hanky don’t get. The good news is that Xavier’s most reliable ball handler and guard with the lowest turnover rate should be returning soon. For a post oriented offense to work X will like to have to keep the pace down and emphasize efficiency.
That also means that Xavier can’t waste possessions elsewhere. Make no mistake, that means that three pointers are going to have to be essentially phased out as a large part of the gameplan. Last night the Musketeers took 13, their fewest of the season. Three times this year Q and Naji have taken that many on their own. All three games (Wisconsin, Auburn, UC) were losses. Last night Eli Harden and Ryan Welage took eight of the attempts and Paul Scruggs took two more. That kind of distribution is acceptable going forward and avoids the largely wasted possessions that have come from less accomplished shooters shooting.
Finally, Hankins and Jones will have to stay on the court. Foul trouble wasn’t really an issue last night as Zach didn’t pick up his fourth until under a minute to play on an over the back call. Tyrique only had three, but he averages over five in 40 minutes of play. Hankins is generally cleaner, but both players are only averaging around 20 minutes per game. That took a jump last night and it will have to for the rest of the season for the double post strategy to work. Another post, most likely Naji in last year’s Trevon four role, could help ease the strain on the big men.
No matter how this goes from here out, it’s clear that Travis Steele has made his first big adjustment of his career and, in doing so, found a way for Xavier to win a game they desperately needed. How it pans out going forward will depend on whether Xavier can care for the ball, not waste possessions on bad three pointers, and keep their big men on the floor. For this week at least, there is some hope.