Xavier lost by 5 to a very good Florida team on Sunday. Before that, they were down 3 with the ball with under a minute left and a pretty clean look to tie. Before that, though, they were down by 17, which brings me to our focal point this week.
While Xavier was down 17 and not looking particularly like they'd ever have a chance to have a pretty clean look for a tie, someone popped up in my Twitter mentions to bemoan the lack of "dawgs" on this Xavier team. There was no special subtext here; he was questioning the team's toughness.
I'll bet he felt pretty silly when the Muskies fought almost all the way back, and I'll bet he'd have felt sillier still if X had gotten over the hump. Anyway, here's my ratings of the nine very tough dudes X is running out there, building to the very toughest.
9. Jason Carter
I think Carter is actually pretty tough; you don't drag Ohio to the places he did without having some sand. I think Carter is trying a bit too hard to fit in as he transitions to a high-major team. I appreciate his willingness to defer, but he's a dang good player in his own right. Let it eat, young man.
8. Dontarius James
I haven't seen too much of Big Don, but what I do know is that Coach Steele said he didn't like the intensity he was seeing on the floor against Florida, and his solution was to call for King James. I want him to be a part of this team, not a sequel to Elias Harden. I'm not in charge of that, though.
7. Dahmir Bishop
Dah looks maybe a half step behind the game still, but his instinct is to go out there and get at it. He looks like he might be a bit in over his head, but he doesn't look like he thinks he's a bit in over his head. You don't grow by hiding from the game and ducking responsibility, and he appears committed to getting the experience necessary to grow as a player. That takes chutzpah.
6. Bryce Moore
This is getting tough already, because I consider Bryce Moore an incredibly dawg-like (canine?) dude. He goes onto the floor looking to ruin someone's day, and he does it. It has been a long time since I've seen someone able to chest up 94 feet from the bucket, get turned, and somehow keep his man from just running down the floor. The work he does off the ball is really, really worth your time to watch. The occasional super-clutch three is icing on the cake. Legit dawg.
5. Zach Freemantle
I'm preposterously high on this kid. I already thought I loved him, then he smacked Josh Carlton's garbage against the glass, THEN he blocked Christian Vital's shot off of Christian Vital and out of bounds and sprinted to the arc to let everyone know that the ball was going the other way. Everybody who was on the floor when Xavier finished double-OT with two wings and three bigs on the floor is a dawg, and Freemantle a dawg among them.
4. Quentin Goodin
He honestly could have been #1. Really, you could shuffle everyone from the top 6 and get an order that I'd sign off on. These are tough dudes. I hope Q doesn't search his own name on Twitter, because everybody and his mom has been typing feedback for his performance. Despite the struggles that I'm sure he'd admit that he wants to improve, he has left a lot of skin on the floor this year. He has just been all over the place, keying Xavier's defensive effort. Also, how about the knackers to take those two threes to chase down the game late against Florida?
3. Tyrique Jones
Goodness, he's a monster. I thought his leg was going to come off when he went head-above-the-rim to save the UConn game with a block at the end of regulation. He hobbled through the end of that game and the Florida game and still couldn't be held on the glass. Offensive rebounding is about putting in the work until one time the ball falls to you, and Ty has been making those runs all year. Plus, his mean mugs are the meanest.
2. Naji Marshall
There are a lot of ways to be a dawg, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't love Naji's brand. He is the team's hype man; I love watching him pump up his teammates. He chases down dudes who are doing well for high fives and cheat bumps (or whatever), but he is also constantly in guy's ears when they screw something up and need someone to show some confidence in them. You can get a guy to go somewhere by inspiring fear, but you'll get a guy to go a lot farther if he knows you have his back when you ruin a play. He mentioned in the post-game presser after UConn that the team has 50 minutes in it because the guys love each other and want to pick each other up; he exemplifies that on the court.
1. Paul Scruggs
There aren't any wrong answers here, but I think this is my right one. He's just a really tough frickin dude. You don't have a bag as deep as Paul's from 10 feet and in if you haven't made peace with the idea that you might have to take a beating to get your baskets. He has the skill set to be a finesse guard, but he's just too much of a dawg not to take it at big dudes. His defensive effort has been off the charts this year. He may have had that last shot roll off on him against Florida, but the dude has the huevos to take it on, and I respect that.
I'd go to battle with any or all of these nine dudes, and I'm confident Kyky Tandy and Daniel Ramsey are going to show us more of the same. I haven't seen this team quit on a game yet, which gives me huge confidence in them going forward.