Coming off a week off, still without the services of Zach Freemantle, Xavier looked like a team that needed a break, not a team that just got one. A sluggish start on offense coupled with a typical start on defense to put X in a hole early and behind the eight ball in a game they needed to win to maintain their momentum heading into a huge showdown in Milwaukee. Instead, they battled valiantly to a loss that will look ugly come Selection Sunday and could well dictate their fate in the Big East title race. Some takeaways from a tough night in Hinkle:
Xavier’s defense means their offense can’t afford off nights
Xavier’s first half shooting lines make for some very ugly reading. 8-26/3-8/2-6 is not good against a fantastic defense, which Butler has not been this year. Xavier had 7 offensive rebounds and created 7 Butler turnovers but were never able to get their offense in gear at any level, turning the ball over 11 times themselves in the opening 20 minutes. Unfortunately for Xavier, they are just not a team that is built to win a rock fight and their inability to stop Manny Bates and Simas Lukosius meant that rather than having a moderate deficit to erase while sorting things out, Xavier went into the half down by 14 and needing a furious comeback to get back into this game. As the offense started to find a rhythm in the second half, Xavier simply couldn’t string enough stops together to ever really get control of the game. It is a problem that will still exist after Zach Freemantle comes back and it could mean the difference in this team being able to do something special in March and not.
Xavier went about 5.5 deep tonight
Without Freemantle and with Souley Boum hobbled, Xavier got a total of 24 minutes from their bench. 16 of those were from Des Claude, the second lowest total he has racked up since the calendar turned to 2023, Cesare Edwards committed 3 fouls in his 7 minutes, and Kam Craft took Kyky’s typical cameo slot and posted the trillion. One of the issues with Xavier’s offense tonight was that Claude was the only non starter to shoot, meaning that Butler never had to worry all that much about Xavier altering their personnel and their plan of attack. Claude was mostly good in his time on the floor, going 2-2/0-0/1-1, but had a couple of tough turnovers. There is reason to think there will be bigger things to come from he and Craft especially, but Xavier needs the best of Des every time out and someone else to offer something until Freemantle is back.
The NCAA has a refereeing problem
It’s not often that a set of referees affects the outcome of a game the way Jeffrey Anderson, Courtney Green, and Lamar Simpson did tonight. Having averaged out to a crisp 30 hours since their last assignment, they were content to put in another comically lackadaisical performance that would get any of us who work jobs where our performance actually matters fired without a second’s hesitation. Their unorthodox interpretation of what is a legal screen (apparently everything) led to the picks becoming dirtier and dirtier until Souley Boum was finally hobbled when he got hung up on Manny Bates best impression of a pulling guard and turned his ankle colliding with Eric Hunter. Not happy to simply let someone get injured over their negligence, they went about deciding the outcome of the game from a score perspective as well. If the final goaltend call was correct by the interpretation of the basket interference rule, which is debatable, there is no argument that the goaltend called on Jack Nunge earlier in the second half was incorrect. The referee though the ball had touched the backboard when it had not, there is not way to squint at a basketball rule book and make that call anything other than blown. All three referees had the clear chance to make the call correctly and they all clearly failed. Their punishment? They get to go do it again whenever they feel like it.
There was no quit in these boys tonight
Xavier went out at Creighton 13 days ago, got smacked in the mouth and never really recovered. Tonight, albeit against a much worse opponent, they scratched and clawed against the momentum and at times their own inability to get out of their own way to get back into the game and eventually tie it. Colby Jones put the team on his back at times in going for 14/7/2 in the second half alone. Adam Kunkel was in attack mode as he tried to help will Xavier back into it and added 10 after halftime. Jack Nunge had the unfortunate circumstance of calling a timeout when Xavier had none, but bounced straight back to drill a huge three and blocked Hunter’s last second shot at the rim. Even Souley Boum, hampered by a bad ankle, managed to make a big three and a pair of clutch free throws after Butler decided to foul him up 2 with 9 seconds left. That was weird, by the way, if the game hadn’t been decided on such a hotly debated call that would surely be the main talking point on Twitter. Even though Xavier did not come away with the result they wanted, and even though this will go down as Xavier’s second worse loss of the season, there was still a battling spirit present that can be admired.