Brad: I don’t even know how to process that game yesterday. It was an absolute must win, Xavier was down their third leading scorer, best perimeter defender, and best shooter, it was against one of the hottest teams in the nation, X had been lousy recently... and they came out and won in an actually rather convincing fashion.
Creighton wasn’t really bad anywhere except from the line. Their interior shooting numbers aren’t great, but that feels more like a tribute to Xavier suddenly remembering to play defense than any great failing on the part of the Jays. X had a great game plan and they executed it. For all the (deserved) criticism that Travis Steele has gotten recently, he outcoached the guy who I think is the best coach in the conference yesterday.
Joel: No doubt Coach Steele flexed on everyone yesterday. I thought the big signal was out of halftime. Creighton tied it right away, but McDermott was never able to put his guys in a position Steele couldn’t counter. X went up 38-33 at about the 17-minute mark. After that, Creighton had the ball down 3 or fewer for one possession at 69-66. They’re too explosive not to have stretches where they put up a lot of points in a hurry, but they only had one chance to tie in the final 17 minutes of the game.
Bryan: The other person who answered some questions other than Coach Steele was Jason Carter, in my opinion. He had struggled on defense for most of February, which is where he finds most of his value for Xavier. He had a couple of slow rotations early, but throughout the second half I thought he was excellent and the fact that Creighton could not keep up with Xavier in a game of 2’s was a huge factor in the patience and intelligence with which X played offense.
The other standout among the supporting cast was Dwon Odom. Zegarowski tied the game with the first basket of the second half, which gave him 12 points. He finished with 15. Dwon completely took him out of what Creighton wanted him to do and Mahoney, Ballock, and Jefferson weren’t able to compensate. For the final 20 minutes of the game, Xavier had the edge a point guard and it wasn’t that they went away from Zegarowski, Odom just gave him more than he could handle on both ends.
It also warmed my heart when Ballock ran out to guard him 30 feet from the basket and he blew past him without acting like he was going to do anything else.
Joel: Odom was amazing. Zegarowski still went for 15 plus 10 assists, but Dwon kept them out of their stuff. Creighton takes more than a third of their total shots in transition, and X did a great job in keeping them from getting those quick hitters that let them go on 6-0 runs in 20 seconds. Dwon was a huge part of making them play against 5 because he kept Zegarowski from being comfortable running the ball between the arcs.
I was really warmed when Zegarowski tried to go into his version of Paul Scruggs Takeover Mode and Odom threw him twice down the stretch. I mentioned in the post I just ran, but it bears repeating that Zegarowski had 0 points and 1 assist in the final 9 minutes.
Brad: The question becomes whether they can carry this forward. That win was huge, but it is undone if X goes on the road and lays an egg against Georgetown. That group of Odom, Kunkel, and Wilcher has to keep performing for this team to keep ripping off wins.
Joel: If there’s a year where that is more likely to happen, I’d say it’s this one. I’d suspect that your best players are going to be most likely to remain productive through repeated corona pauses because (a) they’re, you know, better, and (b) the game plan is built around them. Kunkel has a track record of success at Belmont, but Odom and Wilcher have only what they’ve put on film this year. Each of them is settling into a new role at a new level. I think (hope) those are the kind of guy who will get the most benefit from repeated reps and consistent run. Hopefully this was less Tre Campbell briefly going nuts and more three guys picking back up on a track that had been momentarily derailed by a pandemic.
Georgetown is playing better of late. Marquette has lost their last seven to teams that aren’t Butler, except for running UNC off their own floor (somehow). Which of these games worries you more?
Brad: Both of them. It’s March, everything worries me. You stress mandarins (kudos on the healthy choice), I prefer a lot of middle distance staring and angst.