If this was our first glimpse at Xavier this year, the impression is that things will not be easy. That’s the bad news. The good news is that, even in a struggle, the Musketeers got the win. With everything being patched together on the fly, there’s no one better in the nation to do that patching than Sean Miller. He mixed, matched, yelled, and cajoled today. At the end, Xavier went to 1-0. The march to Selection Sunday is underway. If you were hoping for a 50 point hiding of a team with Revolutionary War connections, well fear not, we still play Georgetown twice.
The rotation is more settled than we thought
In the first game of the season against a sub 300 KenPom team usually everyone is getting a touch. Last year Xavier demolished Morgan St to start the season. 12 guys played, and Elijah Tucker had time to get two shots up. Tonight, Coach Miller went nine deep and six guys played more than 20 minutes. Part of that is down to not being able to put RMU away, part of it is likely a lack of trust.
Reid Ducharme, Lazar Djokovic (hand), and Kam Craft didn’t play. Kachi Nzeh got less than five minutes. For now, it seems like the circle of trust is going to have to start small and expand. The early returns don’t suggest strength in depth.
Xavier turned the ball over 17 times tonight. That’s too many. Some, maybe a lot, of that is a function of not knowing each other. At no point tonight did any Musketeer share the floor with anyone with whom he’d played a competitive game before. Think on that for a moment. None of these guys had actually been teammates before tonight. Still, chucking the ball all over creation is a problem that will need sorted soon. What solves that? Playing together. The next test comes on Friday.
A lot of our season preview podcast focused on figuring out who would carry the load for the Musketeers this season. The answer to that appears to be Claude. Des played 37 minutes, nine more than anyone else, and took more shots, threes, and free throws than anyone else on the team. He was also really, really good in that time. 25/2/3 is serious output from a guy who had to work his way into rotation minutes last season.
Gytis Nemeiksa (10/12/3), Quincy Olivari (13/3/3), and Dayvion McKnight (10/4/5) were all effective in their Musketeer debuts. Nemo was high effort efficiency. Olivari demonstrated that his shooting range is essentially boundless. If he were to take some of the arc of the ball you figure he could probably connect from around half court. On a team that appears to be severely lacking in shooters, he was the exception. McKnight is quick and excellent in the midrange. Xavier’s backcourt looks smooth so far. Again, they threw the ball to no one a bit much, but that should level out. Nemeiksa was a surprise start, but he more than earned his time.
These games in transition can be difficult to parse. It was frustrating in the first half to watch X trail and then mess with a team that hopes maybe go .500 in a bad conference. The second half was better, but in fits and starts. That’s how it is going to be for the first several weeks of this year. While these guys learn to play together, the result will (hopefully) be better than the process. It’s just onward and upward from here.