The term “must win” gets thrown around a lot in sports. Your favorite NFL team can’t afford to drop to 2-3, it’s a must win. A baseball team that has lost three in a row in August and is in danger of getting swept is suddenly in a must win situation. Talking heads last night said that the Lakers must win their next game. Very rarely is the team actually in a do or die situation.
In tonight’s game against Georgetown, Xavier must win. Should the Musketeers cap the regular season with six straight losses, the last against this iteration of the Hoyas, the auto bid will be the only way into the NCAA tournament. No run to finals or upset of Providence will do. Drop a Q4 game at home and X is done.
Thankfully, Georgetown is awful. The Hoyas last won on December 15th. That is a full 90 days ago and encompasses the entirety of the Big East schedule. That win over Howard presaged a 19 game losing streak. Georgetown has beaten one top 100 team all year (Syracuse, 85th) and has only been within single digits in eight of those 19 losses. Only one has been a one possession game. Xavier fans who complain about Travis Steele need only look to DC to see what it looks like when a coach completely destroys a program.
Being bad at basketball. In KenPom’s 20 category big sheet of team offensive and defensive metrics, Georgetown is in the top 100 in just three (defensive block rate, free throw percentage, and offensive rebounding), and in the top 50 in exactly zero. The Hoyas are in the bottom 100 in seven of them and below 200th in a total of 11. That is terrible. The Georgetown team sheet is awash in a sea of red.
What the Hoyas try to do is play quickly, force turnovers, and get on the offensive glass. If they were able to do those things well, they wouldn’t be 6-23. Make no mistake, this is a team that Xavier should beat, and beat badly. Norfolk State, whom the Musketeers beat by 40 back in the halcyon days of November, is 14 spots higher in the KenPom than Georgetown.
|Despite his solid distribution numbers, Harris is a shameless chucker at heart. He's second on the team in FGA despite posting an EFG% of 39.5% in conference play, which is very bad. He's nails from the line in the Big East and is a respectable defender.
|Carey is a three-level scorer and excellent from the free throw line. He's far and away the best Hoya at getting his own shot and is distinctly their best offensive player. He doesn't distribute much, but he's a good defender and stays out of foul trouble. He's the guy who Georgetown should be feeding shots to.
|The team leader in FGA despite an EFG% of 36.6% in Big East player. He makes Harris look like Steph Curry; he's shooting 36% from inside the arc and 23% from behind it in league games. He rebounds well on both ends, is a plus defender, and draws a ton of fouls. He's never met a game he didn't think he could shoot his way into, often ignoring ample evidence to the contrary.
|In addition to Carey (5th) and Harris (7th), Holloway completes a trio of Hoyas in the top 10 in the league in free throw percentage. He's a respectable but unspectacular three-point shooter and almost completely absent on the glass. He has some ball security issues, but he gets to the line a ton.
|Ighoefe is almost the exact opposite of Holloway. He crushes the glass, is a non-threat from all three levels offensively, and would be one of the last guys you'd want to see representing your interests at the free throw line. He's a good rim protector but commits a ton of fouls.
Kaiden Rice is shooting .375/.380/.833 and has hit 89 threes on the year. He’s a 6’7” stretch four averaging 11.3/2.4/0.4; he comes onto the floor to chuck it from the cheap seats. Someone staple a picture of this dude to Zach Freemantle’s forearm so he doesn’t lose him on defense or we’re going to watch a team drop 11 straight on his head (again).
In addition to being gigantic, Ryan Mutumbo is averaging 5.3/3.2/0.1 this season and dishes out 1 assist for every 104 minutes he’s on the floor. He blocks more shots that Ighoefe and commits fewer fouls, but he’s only getting about 10 minutes of run per game. With an ORtg of 110 and solid rebounding numbers on both ends, he’s a promising young big man.
Deep depth comes from Malcolm Wilson, Jalin Billingsley, and Tyler Beard. Wilson is a seven-footer who boards hard and protects the rim. Billingsley is a stretch four who has struggled to make jumpers. Beard is a guard with massive turnover problems and an EFG% of 27.4%.
- Who is going to step up? Colby Jones tried against Seton Hall, Adam Kunkel tried against Providence... No one really tried against St. John’s. Maybe it takes another Nate Johnson masterclass like against Virginia Tech, maybe it’s Zach Freemantle refinding his intestinal fortitude and game, maybe it’s just the continued excellence of Jack Nunge or a return to form from Paul Scruggs, but someone has to start making some plays.
- Can Travis Steele get a tune out of this team? Regardless of what you think of the coach, it’s fair to ask questions of everyone after a team has lost nine of 12. Travis Steele doesn’t look angry so much as perplexed most of the time. He has to do something, try to sneak a sixth guy out there, bribe a ref, bring Trevon Bluiett back, to get a win tonight.
- Can Xavier beat anyone? If the Musketeers don’t win this game, and that somehow seems possible, they might as well just quit. The NIT field won’t have a team this bad, the CBI and CIT or whatever they are likely won’t either. A 20 point win would make everyone breathe a little easier, just getting the game would be a good first step.
There aren’t three keys today. Keeping Georgetown off the offensive glass is important. Far more important is just finding a way, by hook or by crook, to win this game. Xavier cannot lose and still harbor realistic NCAA tournament ambition. Georgetown is a bad basketball team playing bad basketball. Even as bad as Xavier has been since February started, the Hoyas have been far, far worse. Patrick Ewing has gutted a once proud program and is watching the festering corpse sink into the earth. Xavier isn’t that bad, surely.
Georgetown has just enough talent to occasionally scare a team. Xavier has been playing so badly despite immense talent that every game they play is scary. It is an absolute nightmare that the season has come to this. This is game is as must win as they come. There is no way back from a loss. Tournament dreams, and perhaps jobs, hang in the balance. Just win.