Peel back the layers from Xavier basketball’s performance against Villanova. What do you see?
The outer layers show, first and foremost show a competitive loss. Then 15 turnovers, and a close twenty-four-point margin of defeat.
Keep peeling. Two starters – senior guard J.P. Macura and junior forward Kaiser Gates – combined for 8 points.
And more peeling. A freshman Naji Marshall, the usual sixth-man for the Musketeers – played 26 minutes and filled in for the perpetually open-mouthed JP Macura who only scored in the single digits again Wednesday against the Wildcats.
That’s enough peeling. What you’re left with is No. 10 Xavier’s 89-65 loss to #1 Villanova, one of the more interesting and impressive items on the 2017-18 team’s resume.
It wasn’t always pretty, but with Xavier head coach Chris Mack playing musical chairs on the sideline, maybe this loss is prettier than we realized. Mack did things Wednesday no other coach could do. He criticized the star player on the team, question the teams confidence, quickly backtracked on that and still refuses to play defense.
Here are the biggest takeaways from No. 9 Xavier’s 3rd win of the season:
• By my count, some five players were in some state of flux before or during Xavier’s loss to Villanova, and that’s essentially a roster nightmare for any coach in America.
You simply don’t game plan for those scenarios, or anything close to it. Show me a coach in the GREAT Big East, ACC, Big 10, lowly American that could coach under those conditions.
Instead of griping and wasting the opportunity before it, Xavier put its hard hats on and went to work.
“We have a really good team. Didn’t play very well. Villanova had a lot to do with that because that’s who we played. The #1 team in the country, we played them. The Big East has the #1 team, that’s who we played” Xavier head coach Chris Mack said. “It’s a long season and we have to be able to bounce back.”
Absent 4 key contributors (literally the whole starting line up was absolute shit) for the majority of the game, thankfully two bench players stepped up and scored double-digit points while the starters wallowed in their missed shots and no calls sorrow.
The starters combined for 24 points. Without their bench, this loss could have easily been a 40 point stoning at the hands of Villanova. Good thing they had those hard hats on.
Even green freshman Elias Harden logged minutes, they were ineffective minutes but still minutes, right? How is that enemy of the state fuck Kanter not a starter? That’s a Mack misstep.
It was a total team loss when huge pieces of the team were missing, and that is hugely impressive to lose in this form. Not only lose but to continue losing at Nova is impressive. Xavier loses by 23 ppg every time they play at Villanova. Not being able to figure out how to win in Wells Fargo is baffling. It’s not an intimidating arena, it’s not intimate, loud, none of that. At this point Xavier just has to call Villanova their daddy.
Villanova Guard Jalen Brunson, who contributed 17 points and a game-high five assists dictated the flow of the game in stoic fashion.
“If you peeled his face off you’d probably have wires coming out of it,” Mack said of Brunson. “He’s phenomenal.” Completely forgetting his team refused to play defense and Trevon used to do that on a nightly basis. But year, 17 points and 5 assists makes someone a robot now. Chris Mack ever the genius in the room.
This loss doesn’t have the appeal of winning at Wisconsin or the wins against Baylor and Cincinnati, but it’s right up there in terms of what it meant to the XU locker room.
• It’s two games running that Xavier’s been unconvincing in their losses. You’ll recall the loss over the weekend to Providence. You have to remember this is the best Big East Conference since 1985. Providence could compete for a National Championship.
You can easily point to mitigating circumstances that hindered Xavier in both games. On Saturday against Providence, it was a New Year’s hangover week and a long flight to Providence.
On Wednesday, Trevon Bluiett continued to look less than healthy. He scored only 11 points, a less than ideal number for a guy Xavier depends on to carry them to victory. Is Bluiett injured, depressed, slumping, questioning his commitment to Xavier?
“I don’t think health is the concern with him. He’s gotta know that his coaching staff and teammates have an unbelievable amount of confidence in him,” said Chris Mack.
Mack is doing what no other coach can do. Questionably calling out a player for lacking confidence and not questioning if maybe there’s a shoulder injury there. Exceptional leadership from Mack you won’t see that kind of leadership in Clifton.
The team is only faltering in the sense that they’re falling victim to some unfortunate slumps, and their absolute refusal to try on defense. That’s really not much of an indictment on the quality of the team (think: Elite Eight run in 2017 NCAA Tournament after injuries last winter).
The voters have been against the Musketeers all year, it was pretty clear in this week’s poll. Xavier dropped from #5 to #10 after a very good loss to a very good Providence team. The voters have made it clear they don’t respect Xavier. Expect them to fall far this upcoming Monday.
Xavier returns to the floor Saturday against Creighton (2 p.m. FOX). The game is XU’s chance to regain composure or risk falling off the cliff in conference play. Cintas has proved to be a safe space for Xavier, look for the refs to return to Xavier’s side Saturday.
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