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A small step in the right direction

Xavier won last night, but that doesn’t mean all is well.

NCAA Basketball: Georgetown at Xavier Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

Xavier won last night. I open by saying that because the rest of what I am going to say will make you wonder if I’m aware of the final score. I am, and it was a pleasant respite. What it was not, however, was a significant step toward fixing anything.

There is a positive to take from this win, and that is the re-emergence of Xavier’s defense. The Musketeers looked tough on the defensive end and, after weathering some wide open misses early, found there way to hold Georgetown to their worst offensive output in over a year. Omer Yurtseven was the victim of some of the horrendous officiating on display (perhaps he and Naji could get a coffee and compare woes), but it was all Xavier that stifled Mac McClung.

As a team the Hoyas scored .84 points per possession. They had their third least efficient game of the season on the offensive end. As Xavier has not learned countless times this season, shooting 4-18 from behind the arc will do that to you. Georgetown couldn’t make shots, couldn’t get on the glass, and couldn’t really get rolling. It was, by efficiency, the best Xavier’s defense has been since the win over Towson.

And that’s good, because Xavier’s offense just persists in being horrible. The Musketeers scored .97 points per possession on 96.9 efficiency as a team. That’s worse than the Seton Hall and Creighton losses, and far worse than in the Wake Forest loss that touched off a minor firestorm. While the Musketeers managed to not turn the ball over at an alarming rate, they continued to shoot it poorly.

Early in the game that wasn’t the case. Xavier won the game early in the first half with a massive run in which most trips down the court seemed to feature a set play. With three bigs and Naji on the court, Xavier ran a lot of post double screen/slip action near the elbow and got bigs moving downhill. They also used the mismatch Naji created to make Georgetown play them one on one in the post. That created great looks for Jason Carter, who was way too strong for Jamorko Pickett, and created openings for Tyrique Jones. Paul Scruggs never really looked at east initiating the offense, but he got it done.

In the second half, Xavier went flat. KyKy Tandy was there to save the game with easily his best performance to date, but the offense otherwise looked a lot like it has essentially since the Shootout win. A high weave, not enough post touches, and an inexplicable amount of three pointers. The Musketeers chucked up another 25 three point attempts tonight. Marshall and Tandy made seven between them, the rest of the team went 1-11. Zach Freemantle, for reasons best known to him, took two. Neither made it much higher at the top of their parabola than they were at release.

The Musketeers also continued a disturbing trend of being really bad around the basket as well, shooting 40.5% inside the arc. Were that a season long number it would rank them 350th in the nation. (Central Connecticut, Saint Peter’s, and Kennesaw St. if you were wondering). The 96.9 efficiency would be good for 267th. Xavier also shot 8-15 from the line to drop their number there on the year to 67.4%, 261st in the nation. In fact, Xavier is in the bottom third from the line and from behind the arc, and only 121st on two point shots. The offense is borderline appalling, and it wasn’t better than that on Wednesday night.

That’s a lot of factual negativity, and it takes the shine off winning a must win game. Simply put though, Xavier did win. They have to win again at Creighton to once again start harboring realistic NCAA tournament aspirations. That game is worth .74 wins above bubble. Win it and suddenly a miserable two week stretch can be salvaged. To do so Xavier either needs the defense to sustain a near miraculous level or actually start playing good offense.

To hear why we thought this game was must win, have a listen to the latest podcast.