Where to start with that? A mere 258 days after the coronavirus shut down basketball in March, the Musketeers opened the new season with a resounding 101-49 win over an overmatched Oakland team.
Before the game even tipped, the pandemic made itself felt as CJ Wilcher, Colby Jones, and Zak Sweyte were held out of the game for quarantine because they were exposed to someone who had tested positive. None of them have been announced as testing positive, but an aggressive approach to contact tracing is probably the only way to keep a system running this year.
It was a sputtering start for X, but only just. Paul Scruggs (7/6/10) had a couple of risky passes to the post picked off, the Muskies missed a couple of shots they wouldn't for most of the game, and it was only the steady hand of Jason Carter (6/6/1) making the right plays into open spaces that had Xavier up a mere 6-4 at the first media timeout.
Then the wheels fell off for the Golden Grizzlies. Xavier reeled off a 32-2 run over the course of 8 minutes that buried the game as a contest. Kyky Tandy (18/2/7) - who didn't start today, as Dwon Odom (12/3/4) became the first freshman point to start the opener for X since Brandon Randolph - jarred 3 threes during that run as X hit 7 shots from beyond the arc in those 8 minutes. Nate Johnson (17/5/5) and Zach Freemantle (21/12/4) also got in on the barrage as the Muskies pulled away at a trot.
From there, Xavier didn't really let up. After allowing 4 points in the first 2 minutes, Xavier allowed just 8 in the 18 minutes that remained in the half. Xavier's defense was stifling, forcing 10 turnovers and holding Oakland to a shooting line of .125/.071/.750. For a team that struggled to score at times last year and relied on Naji Marshall and Tyrique Jones in large measure to key the defense, a halftime score of 53-12 could hardly have been more encouraging.
If there were concerns of X letting off in the second half, they were quickly squashed. Oakland put up more points in the second half, partly because they almost had to, partly because they started hitting a few shots, and only in small part due to let off from X. The Muskies ended the game having held Oakland to a shooting line of .232/.226/.769 and forcing 16 turnovers. It was a smothering, cohesive effort all over the floor, especially considering the team was working in Dieonte Miles (12/1/3), Dwon Odom (12/3/4), Bryan Griffin (8/8/0), and Nate Johnson for the first time.
The game was dead and buried 15 minutes in, so I'll spare you the blow-by-blow of the second half and get right to some instant analysis.
The sophomores are going to be special this season. Zach Freemantle could not have looked more comfortable out there, showing good touch around the rim, knocking down a handful of jumpers, and going 1-2 from beyond the arc. He wasn't super flashy, he just kept getting into good spots and converting clinically.
Kyky Tandy, on the other hand, was very flashy. He had enough confidence for two men of ordinary self-belief, pulling on 10 threes and hitting 6 of them. A couple of them he missed were just heat check bombs, but so were a couple that he made. If he's coming off the bench with getting buckets as his only assignment this year, he's a huge weapon.
Dwon Odom was the only freshman to debut today, but he made the most of it. The less said about his jump shot the better, but he shot 5-8/0-2/2-2 and was relentless in attack. He also looked like a good defender right from the beginning, which is a great sign for a freshman.
If you ran Xavier's bench big Bryan Griffin and Dieonte Miles together at high speed, you'd have all the elements of an All American. Griffin is hugely built and a real estate rebounder. He also flashed some impressive bounce in getting his first bucket on a dunk off of straight legs. Dieonte Miles has comical length and smooth footwork, and he did a great job of being patient and working out of double teams to find open teammates. Miles showed he can be pulled out of rebounding position a bit chasing blocked shots, but these guys combined to shoot 10-13 off the bench and give Coach Steele a couple of different looks to go to off the bench.
All this happened without Paul Scruggs shooting particularly well, as he posted a 3-10/1-7/0-0 line. Despite that, he led the team with 10 assists and, after his 2 early turnovers, didn't lose possession again. He stayed locked in and played good defense for his whole stint on the floor. The buckets will come.
Fellow senior Jason Carter didn't light up the box score, but he paired really well with Dieonte Miles out there. His steady presence in the right spots on both ends of the floor freed Miles up to explore the space a bit, as he helped in rotation and sealed up well to help control the glass as his younger counterpart roamed the lane. I'm not sure how many game balls he's going to take home, but he spackles in a lot of cracks for this team.
Xavier made 13 threes today, a number it often felt like last year's team couldn't approach if you locked it in a gym overnight. The ball moved really well, with 43 made buckets generating 34 assists. I know Oakland was brought in to receive a thumping, and they certainly played that role, but there was a lot to like about this performance from the Muskies. If you were concerned that this might be another year of joyless slogs through scoring .950 PPP and holding the opponent to .924, I think today probably did a lot to put those fears to rest. Now the Muskies - who only went 8 deep today - have 22 hours to rest and ice up before they hit the floor against Bradley.