After winning ugly against Villanova, X came out firing early while hosting the Bluejays of Creighton. Easy transition points, a Des Claude three and a jumper from About Ousmane put the Muskies up nine in the early part of the game. From there the wheels started to fall off and X went into the half trailing by nine themselves. What led to that? Not Creighton getting hot from deep, they shot just 7-28 from three on the game. It wasn’t even Trey Alexander slashing through the defense. It was actually just a simple pick and roll run to Ryan Kalkbrenner, who absolutely torched Xavier’s front court en route to 28 points.
The first 10 minutes of the second half brought more of the same. Kalkbrenner kept dunking lobs and dump offs, and Xavier couldn’t buy a bucket. The deficit eventually grew to 20 with 9 minutes to play, courtesy of another Kalkbrenner dunk. From there the Muskies fought hard, holding the Bluejays to just 12 points for the rest of the contest, and scoring 25 themselves. Simple math will tell you that a +13 scoring margin will not make up for a 20 point deficit. Math is right. X never got it closer than 5 late in the game, and once again could not get the shots to fall when they needed them most.
The front court couldn’t stop Kalkbrenner
Ryan Kalkbrenner is a threat on lobs and dump offs for the most part. He is not a powerhouse big who buries his man in the post, or one that relies on finesse and touch to make shots. He instead relies on solid positioning and the guards around him to dime him up for easy buckets. He got a lot of easy buckets today when it became obvious that no big man from X could cover him in the pick and roll. When he wasn’t catching a lob, he was trailing the guard that would slot him a bounce pass for an easy two points. Abou Ousmane was a defensive giant just a few days prior, and today he got absolutely worked while also posting a 40 ORtg and only pulling in one rebound. Sasa Ciani wasn’t the answer either, as he logged only nine minutes and wasn’t able to stop the play everyone saw coming. Lazar Djokovic got extended run late since he was at least willing to push Kalkbrenner out of mid-air and make him hit some free throws. That trio went for just 2 points on 1-9 from the floor, and only collected 6 rebounds. Kalkbrenner, on his own, went for 28 and 7 while shooting 12-14 from the floor.
McKnight, Claude and Olivari needed to combine for 69 (nice) instead of 61
It’s no secret to anyone that these three are Xavier’s main scoring threats. They combined for 61 of Xavier’s 71 points today, and it wasn’t enough. Quincy was again pursued, face-guarded and occasionally fouled by Steven Ashworth. Quincy still ended with 18 on 6-15, pulled down 7 boards and dished 5 assists while not turning the ball over. However, it can’t be denied that Ashworth’s efforts on Olivari threw sand in the gears of Xavier’s offense for a vast majority of the game. Quincy was forced to get to the rim, and only shot 1-5 there and the one was a dunk. Claude struggled mightily from the mid range, and forced his way to the rim, converting his first six attempts there. The one he missed was a cruicial possession with X trailing by five. He took it right at Kalkbrenner, but didn’t get the dunk or the call. Des also shot 1-3 from beyond the arc, the kind of number you can live with from him. Dayvion put up the solid line of 21/8/5 on 8-17. HIs mid range wasn’t falling consistently, but he was, as always, crucial to Xavier’s offense. Even when the game got out of hand, McKnight kept pushing the pace and trying to force the issue. The sad reality is that these guys combined for 61/16/13 with 4 turnovers and 6 steals on 23-49 shooting, and it still wasn’t enough. If this game was played 3v3 with a height cap of 6’6”, X walks away with it.
The bid just got harder, but still attainable
If you listen to our podcast (Thanks!), you’ll know Bryan looked at the Bart Torvik Teamcast and came away with the conclusion that Xavier needs five more wins for a bid. Two of the remaining games are Georgetown and DePaul, and they need to be wins. Outside of those two, Xavier still needs to hold serve at home, and pick up a road win. This sets them up with a 4-10 record in Q1 and a 6-1 record in Q2, and a 70.6% chance (according to Teamcast) of making the last four byes before the Big East Tournament even tips off. The performance today probably didn’t fill you with a lot confidence, but the Muskies can still be very much in the picture come Selection Sunday.