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Xavier almost comes back: Takeways from another Nova loss

Xavier spotted Villanova an enormous lead and then nearly came all the way back.

NCAA Basketball: Villanova at Xavier
Morons on Twitter think this was a bad look. That’s a sodding layup.
Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

That was so very close. Xavier had their senior point guard with a layup at the rim to tie the game with 16 seconds left. Paul Scruggs missed that shot, Villanova continued their incredibly hot night at the line, and Xavier lost. The Musketeers spotted Nova a 17 point lead and came roaring back, but just ran out of time. Once again, Xavier has been swept by Villanova. Once again, the uneducated on Twitter are calling for the coach’s head. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Zach Freemantle is so bad on defense he’s basically unplayable

Freemantle’s defense was a problem last season, it’s crippling now. Eric Dixon has scored double digits six times this season, four times against real competition, and twice against Xavier. Dixon’s career high is 15. When did he get that? You guessed, in both meetings with Xavier this season. Tonight he bullied, spun, ran past, out maneuvered, and generally beat Freemantle in every way humanly possible. Xavier lost this game by four and every player but Freemantle and one other had a BPM2 in the positive range. That’s how bad Zach was tonight. During Xavier’s attempted rally, Frosty ended three straight possessions with misses. He went out at 6:42 and watched the rest of the game.

The officiating was tragicomic

Bert Smith, Brian O’Connell, and Mike Roberts all suck at their job. At some point the Big East has to do something about the fact that its officials apparently do not know the rules. Traveling has apparently ceased to be a violation. Villanova players were actually acquiring rushing yards in this game. Collin Gillespie is apparently Brian O’Connell’s bastard child. Colby Jones bodychecked a player into a jumpball. It was appalling from hideous start to ugly finish. If any of you dear readers were this bad at your jobs you’d have been fired or possibly executed long ago. Just switch to call your own and end this pathetic charade.

The offensive gameplan was good

Cameras cut to Travis Steele and Dante Jackson looking shocked at one point in the first half. Below them the stat line informed us that Xavier was 1-5 on layups and 2-11 from the floor. I’d love to tell you that got better, but it didn’t. If Xavier had made two more of the wide open looks they had, they’d have won. Instead the Musketeers were an appalling 41.9% inside the arc, 20.8% outside it, and only late in the game looked at all likely to make a bucket. Xavier was 7-17 at the rim and 6-14 in the midrange. Neanderthals on Twitter can grunt all they like about the coaching, that effort is on the players. Make just a handful of those easy looks and this is a banner comeback for the Musketeers.

Colby Jones’ three point attempt with 1:40 left in the game was perhaps the best case in point. Off a set play and with no one, literally, within six feet of him, Jones caught only front iron with a shot that didn’t even peak at ten feet off the floor.

The defensive gameplan was... not as good

Collin Gillespie is, galling as this is to say, good at basketball. Paul Scruggs is not good enough on defense to guard him. Despite that, Nova was able to work the matchup to Gillespie on Scruggs far too frequently. On a night when Paul was shooting well he missed significant time with foul trouble he picked up trying to keep Gillespie out of the lane. Dwon Odom would have been an option but he was so bad on offense (and racked up an incredible -29.3 BPM2) that he couldn’t stay on the floor. Adam Kunkel is too small, and Jerome Hunter isn’t quick enough. That left Jones and Scruggs and too often, it left Scruggs.

The defensive failings of Zach Freemantle didn’t help either. Freemantle should be an offensive threat, but he really hasn’t been in Big East play. If he’s going to keep doing whatever this is, Coach Steele needs to get Dieonte Miles back in the rotation. Perhaps he should have done that tonight.

To win big games, Xavier needs Jack Nunge

Jack Nunge has been an incredible transfer pickup by Travis Steele. Against Ohio State and Cincinnati he bullied opposing front courts and imposed his will on the game. Tonight, he missed a layup early, missed all three of the jumpers he tried, and couldn’t seem to grab the ball like he wanted to. An inexplicable call cost him an and one in the first half and he was under pressure all night, but he’s going to have to perform for X to win big games. That’s putting a lot on the junior, but he can handle it.

Xavier showed incredible fight tonight

X was down 17 in this game. That shouldn’t ever happen and is by no means excused by the comeback, but the team did come back. The Musketeers fought back into the game by not doing what they did when Chris Mack was coach and simply rolling over for their beating. Xavier has been within 15 of Villanova as many teams this season as they were in Mack’s entire career here. There are no moral victories in college basketball and the NET rankings won’t add an “almost Q1 win” column, but the fight of a team that can pull out a gutty win was on display tonight.

And, good Lord, Brian O’Connell is the worst. The Puritans were really on to something with stocks in the city center.