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Sunday Conversation: Kicking the year off right (not wide left)

Xavier ended 2022 with a win so good we couldn’t keep from talking about it more.

NCAA Basketball: Connecticut at Xavier Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Joel: A lot to unpack there, but I’ll jump in with something that might have gone a bit overlooked: Xavier’s game plan was clearly to let Andre Jackson shoot as many threes as he wanted to. He came into the game with 30 attempts in 11 games played; he shot 12 against Xavier. X hung off him to put traffic in the lane against Sanogo, and it worked brilliantly.

Brad: I think the key to that is trusting that your interior defense can hold up. You can’t surrender threes and then also let Sanogo eat. To that end a clearly ailing Jack Nunge was solid and Zach Freemantle was a monster clearing defensive glass.

The story, though, is Jerome Hunter. He was just chucking lesser men out of the way on both ends. With 1:10 left he bulled his way through two bugger Huskies and grabbed an absolute man’s defensive rebound. He’s taken a ton of crap since he got here, but he’s flipped all that around. He eats people.

Braydan: I was nervous when UConn kept getting second shots early, but we (Jerome Hunter) did a good job of shutting that down late in the game.

It’s weird to say I wasn’t worried about the offense. I was fully confident in our ability to get buckets, but was concerned we’d go cold at the wrong time. That didn’t happen. Instead we closed hard, and didn’t shrink out of the game. Colby’s offensive board off of Boum’s miss felt like coffin nails to me. No way we were losing after that.

We’ve said there’s no good losses. We’ve lost three close games to good teams. This one is a big win, anyone can see that, but we finally closed out a good team.

Also, that game was just fun to watch. High pace, big shots, and Colby zipping em up at the end.

Brad: I was also confident we could score. I just wasn’t sure we could stop them. They took a 58-54 lead with around 12 to play to run their win probability to 78.6%. They scored 15 points in the last 12 minutes as we just slowly tightened down on defense. UConn’s defense is still fourth in the nation, but in that same time span we scored 29.

Braydan: I remember the time area you’re talking about, but I thought when we really showed quality was the last 4 minutes. Kunk just committed a dumb turnover, and Jackson tied it. At that point, I felt like the momentum could have swung back their way. That last stretch was a clinic though. We sealed off the glass, took care of the ball, and made the winning plays to bury it.

I know he’s been mentioned already, but Jerome Hunter was immense in that final stretch. Some of the boards he was pulling were just incredible. Then he officially killed the game off from the line.

Brad: It was a great win. We should probably mention Zach Freemantle in here. He had 11 defensive boards. Jack Nunge overcame being genuinely ill to chip in 15. Boum and Kunk were our worst players, really, and Boum drove the nails at the line and Kunkel had two steals in the last five minutes. Just an awesome game and a great way to end the year.