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Sunday Conversation doesn’t think it’s too late for Xavier to make some noise in the Big East

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The conference is a mess, but we wouldn’t bet against Xavier fighting towards the top by late February.

NCAA Basketball: Xavier at Villanova Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Brad

There wasn’t a miracle waiting at Nova, but for some reason that game felt almost as encouraging as the wins that came before it. This team feels like it turned a corner.

Joel

I know this isn’t going to be a super popular opinion, but I thought Coach Steele took a big step forward in the last week or so. Keeping the team clicking with the point guard out is no mean feat. Then we went into Nova’s place and had our moments against them. If Booth and Gillespie shoot like 9-19 from three instead of 11-19 and we get a couple of rolls or hit a couple more free throws, it’s there.

I thought the best thing I saw from him was going away from Hankins in the second half. Hankins was having a monster game on the offensive end, and he had to know at some level that people would really question not riding him more. Sticking with him and letting the chips fall where they may was definitely the safer play.

Hankins was getting rinsed in ball screen action, though, and Steele wanted to be able to challenge Villanova’s approach, so he made the gutsy call to bench a guy who was 6-8 from the floor to try to go win the game.

It didn’t work, and it’s debatable that it was even the right call, but I think a coach with the fortitude to make that decision is taking this program places.

Bryan

I thought last night we had a clear game plan that we stuck to pretty well. In the game’s defining run, Nova hit back to back threes that were just impossible to defend better than our guys did. I also thought Hankins was getting pretty exposed on ball screens, which is something I really doubt Jay Wright had failed to notice. I might have tried to get him a,bit more time, but I totally see the thought process on going with Jones for long stretches.

Barring reeling off the next dozen in a row, the at large hopes are probably dead. Did you guys see enough these last 9 days to make you think this team is capable of running the table at MSG and making it in the old fashioned way?

Brad

Yes. I know I’m the resident pessimist/realist here, but the team played well enough to get it done. It would be a monumental task, but there’s no question that it could happen. Unless we meet Nova, because the Lord has ordained that we never beat them.

Joel

Here’s something else to consider: Marquette and Nova are found to finish ahead of us in the conference. After that, Butler and St. John’s are projected by KenPom to finish 10-8 and 9-9, respectively, and then X and a bunch of other teams at 8-10 or 7-11. I don’t think St. John’s and Butler are that much better positioned than we are right now. There’s a not unreasonable scenario in which we finish like 4th in the league.

After that, we have to beat whoever finished 5th (call it Butler), whoever finished 1st, 8th, or 9th (could be a problem), and then whoever finished 2nd, 3rd, 6th, 7th, or 10th. Some of that could be tricky, but...

We just fought back to within a possession of Nova after being down big at their place. We’re getting better as the year goes. We’ve recently shown we won’t quit on a game. In the double pivot, we have something nobody else in the league does. I’m not printing my Xavier 2019 Big East Tournament Champs memorabilia just yet, but there’s not a team in the league I wouldn’t fancy us to have at least a puncher’s chance against in those circumstances.

Brad

Any run is going to be predicated on shutting down the arc. If we allow Marquette or Nova to shoot 34 threes, we are going to lose every time. The question really becomes whether that is a solvable problem or if we will be just left to hope we run into a team that gets cold.

Bryan

On some level we have to admit we need a bad shooting night to beat Nova. Their offense is predicated on the three and they have basically won every time they have shot it well for about 3 years straight. What I liked the other night is that our shot selection was a ton better, especially before desperation forced us into shooting more threes. We have a pair of post players who can verge on unstoppable, and we need to ride them if we are getting anywhere this season.

Joel

I know this is stupid because we gave up 1.31 PPP, but I thought the defense wasn’t horrible against Nova. They made some tough shots, and they got a couple of offensive rebounds that were back breaking. At a neutral site with the season on the line, those last eight minutes might break differently. I’m not sure the regular season is gone just yet though. This week has a couple of huge opportunities in it, and we need them both.

Brad

I had this same thought while watching the game and then saw that 1.31 number. When a team shoots like that, it really skews perception v reality. If somehow these had been our first three games of the year, I’d think this was a tournament team for sure.

Joel

Yeah, I think they’re rounding into what we hoped they’d round into. We knew it was going to be a process, and the only question was if it was going to happen fast enough. Nineteen games into the season, we still haven’t definitively ruled this team out. I still have hope, and I like that.