For 30 minutes last night, Xavier looked a team adrift. The Musketeers could not, per Byron Larkin, “hit the ocean” with a shot. The defense could not figure out a way to Sincere Carry, a genuinely good guard, and the capacity crowd was getting restless. Then, things changed. Paul Scruggs had apparently had enough. For the next ten minutes he was Xavier’s junkyard dog, just like he has been for the last four years. There may be a necklace that gets passed around after games, but it’s only ever on lease from Paul. In bullet point form, here’s some things to think about Xavier after two games.
- The three point shooting is a problem: If you thought the first game was bad, boy do I have a surprise for you! Xavier shot an abysmal 6-29 from behind the arc without the benefit of the hot streak that at least made the start of the Niagara game seem good. Adam Kunkel came with the tag of a good three point shooter and has started this season 1-9. Nate Johnson and Jerome Hunter are both 2-8. Xavier has to keep taking wide open shots (more on that in a bit), but this is getting painful.
- The attitude is excellent: Paul Scruggs you know, but the rest of the team is taking on his relentless tenacity. Xavier managed 20 offensive rebounds for a 44.8% offensive rebounding rate. Adam Kunkel kicked into another gear in the second half despite his shots not falling. Kunkel found teammates, hit the floor, and defended like a maniac. At no point in the game did heads start to fall or the team start to self-sabotage. That’s how a game that could have ended up badly ends with the favorite covering.
- Colby Jones in the next star: 19/8/1 and a brilliant baseline finish during Xavier’s surge were Jones announcement that he is here to be the second option. Jones also plays with a chip on his shoulder and refused to let this game get away from the Musketeers. When it was go time, he went.
- Xavier’s offense lacks a focal point: Xavier’s offensive struggles come mostly when the ball sticks and doesn’t work inside out. Xavier’s offense right now seems to be let the ball stick and not work inside out. The Musketeers took the open threes they have to, but they also were content to dribble into threes or shoot them flat footed. Without Zach Freemantle carving out space inside, the offense spends significant time looking like five dudes drifting around, turning the ball over. At least until...
- Jack Nunge arrived on the scene: Nunge’s second half changed this game just as surely as Paul Scruggs did. Once Travis Steele found the lineup he wanted, Nunge went to work. He went 4-5 inside the arc, blocked two shots and adjusted countless more, and became the post presence this offense needs. This was the Jack Nunge that Xavier was banking on getting.
- Coach Steele made in game adjustments to win: The much maligned coach of Xavier did what needed done at the half. Xavier came back out in the second 20 minutes looking like a team with a better plan. First, Steele adjusted the rotation to take advantage of the smaller lineup that the Golden Flashes were using. Secondly, he changed the post hedge to allow Dieonte Miles to switch rather than show and go. This put Miles in front of Carry and slowed Kent’s attack dramatically. Third, Steele could be heard imploring his team to get the ball inside. Despite taking fewer shots in the second half, Xavier’s two point field goal attempts when up. If fans wanted to see better coaching, this was it.