If there are questions out of this game, they won’t be about the offense. It took more than 9 minutes of basketball before Xavier even missed a shot; the Muskies had ripped off 27 points in that time, which should have been enough to leave Montana dead and buried.
It wasn’t, because the defense wasn’t keeping stride. When X missed for the first time, they had given up 17 points already, all of which had come in the first five and a half minutes of the ball game. They locked down a bit through the middle part of the half, but the effort once again slipped late on. Through 20 minutes, the Grizzlies had dropped 37 points in Cintas. Only the scalding hot Xavier offense kept the home team from being down at the half.
Instead, they were up a dozen. Riding a 17-22 performance from the floor in the half - their best in any half since December 15, 2018 against EKU - Xavier had posted 49 points to retain control of the game despite their spotty defensive effort.
In the second half, Xavier’s first line locked down, allowing just 12 points in the first 15:12 of the game. By that time, they were up through the gears and had run away with it, making a buy game look exactly like it was. It ended in an 86-64 victory for X.
The Muskies move to 2-0 on the season at a trot. They’ll be back in action against Fairfield next Tuesday; keep it locked here (or whatever people say now) and we’ll have you ready to go for that game. Here’s the top three things we’re taking away from this one.
Miller isn’t afraid to roll with two bigs
The exact playing time numbers will be skewed a little bit by the amount of garbage time at the end of the game, but it’s clear that Sean Miller trusts the Freemantle-Nunge axis to do a lot of the heavy lifting for this team. The two big men rewarded his faith in them with a combined 33/7/6 with 4 steals (all from Freemantle) and 2 blocks (both from Freemantle) on 13-19/2-3/5-8 shooting. The worked well together out of high-low sets and kept the ball hot to find open shooters. They only question about their effectiveness so far is how long they can stay on the floor without running out of steam.
The rotation is already tight
Kyky Tandy got his second start in as many games this year, but a couple of times getting caught between sticking or helping on defense had him sitting next to the coaching staff while Adam Kunkel got some good run in the first half. Jerome Hunter got a little time and Desmond Claude spelled the point a bit, and that was the extent of the rotation during the first half. Coach Miller spread the minutes around a little more in the second half, especially as the margin got broader, but it’s clear that the number of guys he trusts is probably somewhere around 8 right now. Dionte Miles only got sporadic minutes until very late, and Cesare Edwards didn’t feature at all. The frontcourt looks frightfully thin right now.
There’s a good defensive team in there somewhere
In the opener against Morgan State, Xavier locked in, ripped off a 31-5 run, and ended the game before halftime. Against a slightly better opponent tonight, they eased away from Montana by not giving up anything of note in the second half until well into garbage time. There are good individual defenders and they've shown the ability to lock down in bursts; a little more consistency could turn this team into a defensive force to be reckoned with.