A shaky start was to be expected for the Xavier Musketeers. An early season trap game lied in waiting for them in the form of the Lehigh Mountain Hawks, but the Muskies were able to weather the storm and come out victorious.
This first win of the season will likely prove to be a valuable one down the road as the Mountain Hawks showed how good they can be. The favorites to win the Patriot League have a great shot to make the tournament, but as the voters saw it, the close victory was enough to bump the Muskies down four spots in the AP poll.
Xavier bounced back nicely against another possible tournament team in the Buffalo Bulls, showing a dramatic improvement on the defensive end and in the turnover column.
Here are several takeaways from the first two games of the season for Xavier
They are going to be fine
It’s not uncommon for highly tabbed teams to struggle in their opening games. It’s not as if Xavier barely scraped out a win against the Little Sisters of the Poor here. Lehigh is a good and experienced team. Yes, the Muskies could have and should have played better, but these early season games are not as much about wins and losses as they are about feeling out what they can bring to the table against real competition.
If there were any doubters about the legitimacy of this team after the Lehigh game, they were quickly put in their place after the romping against Buffalo. Coach Mack was clear that he was not happy with the team’s effort against Lehigh, and his players answered the bell just two days later. They played smarter, more collective and like a top ten team in the nation.
It was clear that they would need more contributions from their bench, and they got just that. Tyrique Jones did exactly what they need out of a first-year big man. He rebounded (11 boards), played solid defense (two credited blocks and a steal in 21 minutes) and cleaned up the garbage around the rim. Goodin was equally impressive with 11 points and four assists in 24 minutes of action.
If these guys can continue to buy into their role and this system, this team will be in great shape.
This team cannot be stopped offensively
Sumner, Blueitt and Macura are going to be a mean three-headed scoring monster in Big East this year. They are going to get the lion’s share of the available minutes, and although Sumner won’t be playing 40 minutes a night like he did against Lehigh, their usage percentage coupled with above average efficiency ratings is going to mean high offensive outputs for these guys.
Blueitt and Sumner were the guys against Lehigh, and Macura filled it up against Buffalo. There will likely be at least a couple games this year where all three of them score 20 points.
The beauty of their games is their versatility. They can all shoot the three, drive the lane, finish through contact, rebound, make free throws and more. Add Myles Davis to that list (it appears more likely that he will make an eventual return to the team) and you’ve got four guys who can contribute in nearly every facet of the game.
Tire Pros Invitational
Xavier now heads down to Orlando where they will compete in the Tire Pros Invitational. For the second straight year, Xavier is far and away the best team in the tournament. They will face Missouri first; a team whom they are very familiar with, beating them in each of the last two years. They could also potentially face Davidson, Northern Iowa, Arizona State, Oklahoma, Clemson, and Tulane.
On paper, the Muskies should waltz right through the field just as they did last year. But preseason tournaments are never as easy as they appear on paper.
On the one hand, they are a great opportunity to get some tournament style play under your belt, playing three games in four days. On the other hand, especially for Xavier, it’s an opportunity to underwhelm and pick up a bad loss or two.
Xavier is obviously still sorting things out and far from playing their best basketball. It would be beneficial for fans to go in with low expectations because it seems like a trap tournament for Xavier. They could very easily dominate in Orlando and all of this build up will be written off. But don’t be surprised if the Muskies struggle.
A few more odds and ends from the early going
Rashid Gaston will continue to improve: In the few instances he was fed the ball against Buffalo, he made mincemeat of the post defenders. He’s not flashy or particularly quick, but he is strong and plays the ugly, old-man game with the best of them. Look for a lot of that baby jump hook he utilized on Monday.
The freshmen are making early season strides: Jones, in particular, should have Xavier fans very excited for the future. He seems to have spearheaded a new aggressive shot blocking mentality for this team, and everyone is getting in on the action. If Jones can do the dirty work when his number is called, and Goodin can let Sumner work off the ball and run the offense when he’s is on the bench, Xavier won’t miss a beat with these two on the court.
Free throws, free throws, free throws: The refs have shown that they don’t care how often they blow the whistle. They are on a mission to reduce physicality and promote freedom of movement. The whistles will become less frequent as the year goes on, but for now, the Muskies are going to be at the line a lot. Xavier hasn’t shot well from the line yet, but those numbers can really only go up for them. Macura, Sumner, and Blueitt have only missed four out of 34 attempts, and with these three as the go-to guys, it looks like the charity stripe will once again be friendly to the Muskies this year.