Before the takeaways, a quick mention that the players on Central Michigan are all very good. Unless you went to one an enormous high school, they are all most likely better than anyone you ever knew or played with. I mention that because they were made to look awful tonight, and they aren’t. In a pickup game at an open run this summer, those guys would destroy everyone. But...
Xavier is way better than Central Michigan
This was a cupcake game at the highest level. The Chippewas are a terrible basketball team. The teams below them in the KenPom ratings read like something that might be generated by your favorite simulator game: Texas A&M Corpus Christi, USC Upstate, Maryland Eastern Shore, and something called Tennessee Martin. The line before this game was Xavier by 24. That flattered CMU and the game showed it.
The defense can be elite
Xavier held Central Michigan to .63 points per possession with a combination of opportunistic ball hawking, very good defensive rebounding, and contesting every shot. The Chippewas didn’t get many looks, got even fewer clean looks, and didn’t convert what they did get. Xavier’s defense should throttle a team like this, Xavier’s defense did throttle a team like this. It was a very good effort that Coach Steele was clearly, based on his sideline demeanor, very invested in.
The shooting might be coming around
Don’t look now, but Xavier has hit the heady heights of 32.2% from deep on the season. A reader asked what would happen of the Musketeers shot 35% from deep for the year. The answer: a top ten offense. (Listen to our podcast for more stats and shameless self-promotion.) If Xavier approaches even 33%, they become a much better team. For reference, Gonzaga shoots 33.3% behind the arc, UK 33.1%, and Baylor 33.5%. Gonzaga is incomparable in the paint, but the other two team shoot remarkably similarly to Xavier. All three are top 15 offenses. It’s possible for Xavier to be as well, but one problem lingers.
The team is still just too sloppy
Once Xavier staked themselves to an insurmountable lead with roughly 34 minutes to play, some of the execution waned a bit. That’s to be expected when you open the first half on a 25-4 run and the second half on a 12-2 run, but it is still absolutely infuriating to watch. Xavier had a three minute span and a two minute span where they failed to score in large part because of ridiculous turnovers like Dwon Odom simply not catching a very easy wide open pass, or no rotation three pointers off one dribble. Against CMU that is really easy to ignore, against Oklahoma State it won’t be. A 21% turnover rate against the Chippewas is bad.
Coach Steele had a point to prove
Not to CMU, who likely know they aren’t good, or Tony Barbee, who surely wonders now if he overscheduled just a bit, but to his own players. Steele didn’t hesitate with the quick hook and was highly energetic on the sideline all night. Most notably, when the execution lagged and the team got sloppy, Steele used timeouts to loudly chide them and then run his rotation players back out there. He clearly has goals beyond just a hiding of a bad team.
Nate Johnson is a bad man
24/1/2 on a bloodless 8-11 from the floor was just a continuation of his 30 point game winning performance against Virginia Tech. When Nate is locked in there is no better shooter in the nation. After a cool start he is now knocking down 47% of his three pointers.
Kyky Tandy and Ben Stanley have work to do
This was the kind of game that, after all the work is done, occasionally sees some end of the rotation guys get minutes. Tonight, players outside Steele’s core nine (welcome back, Zach) accounted for just 11 of the 200 minutes. Cesare Edwards got five of those and Tandy and Stanley split the other six. Edwards looks active and ready to go, if a bit like a freshman. While Ben Stanley seems like he’s a guy coming back from a devastating injury, Tandy still just looks a beat slow and out of sync. His 10 second dribble drive to nowhere rather summed up his time as a Musketeer. It started well, but is petering out in confusion and a general lack of direction. Hopefully he finds what he’s looking for soon.
Jerome Hunter should shoot more threes
Two for his last four from deep. Keep lifting, big man!