Rushed Reactions: #1 Gonzaga 83, #11 Xavier 59

Posted by rtmsf on March 25th, 2017

RTC is providing coverage from start to finish of the NCAA Tournament for the next three weeks.

Gonzaga is Final Four Bound (USA Today Images)

Key Takeaways.

  1. Gonzaga’s Offensive Explosion From Three. The key number in today’s Elite Eight game is 12, as in 12 made three-pointers on 24 Gonzaga attempts. The Zags started the game with seven of its first nine shots from beyond the arc, which was both surprising and troubling because three-point shooting (both in conversions and attempts) really isn’t the Zags’ modus operandi. But they made three of those seven and it only improved from there as Gonzaga slowly adjusted to figure out Xavier’s zone defenses. An 8-of-13 first half supported a 10-point lead at the intermission, and two more quick threes to start the second half quickly pushed the lead over Xavier to an irrecoverable 16 points. From there, Mark Few’s team never looked back on its way to Glendale. As Chris Mack noted afterward, the Zags do not particularly shoot many threes (256th nationally) nor do they shoot them at an elite level (37.8% after tonight) — but given their impressive frontcourt and consistently strong defense, it is a nearly impossible task to beat them when they’re knocking down outside shots at such a prodigious rate.
  2. Its Defense Wasn’t Bad Either. No doubt some regression to the mean here, but Gonzaga did a great job of shadowing and covering the red-hot Trevon Bluiett everywhere on the floor. The junior wing came into today’s game averaging 25.0 PPG and shooting 13-of-23 from three-point range, but the Bulldogs never let him get comfortable in holding him to 10 points on 3-of-14 shooting. Many of the easy looks that Xavier found on Thursday night against Arizona were no longer there, with the beefy size of Przemek Karnowski, Zach Collins and Johnathan Williams making life in the lane uncomfortable for the much-smaller Musketeers. The Zags own the nation’s top defense for a reason, and a complete start-to-finish performance that included holding Xavier to 13 percent from three-point range and 36 percent for the game is a great example of why.
  3. Xavier’s Fiery Run. Considering that Xavier took its February performance and burned it in a showing of mutual solidarity, the Musketeers should still feel great about how they salvaged what appeared to be a lost season. From the calendar-burning moment on, Xavier won six of nine games including a run to the semifinals of the Big East Tournament and the Elite Eight. Maybe Mack should think about using a similar gimmick every year, but the point remains. The loss of Edmond Sumner in late January ensured that the Musketeers would experience bouts of inconsistency, but not even the most faithful Xavier fan believed that a team basically without a point guard could make a run through Maryland, Florida State and Arizona to reach the regional final. Mack deserves all credit for keeping his team focused in a situation that would have destroyed most squads.

Star of the Game. Johnathan Williams, Gonzaga. The transfer from Missouri certainly could not have asked for a better outcome to his decision to leave the SEC for the WCC. As his former school continues to languish — recently hiring a new coach for the third time in six seasons — the junior forward’s play today ensured that Gonzaga’s season would continue into the final weekend. He contributed early, hitting for 12 easy points (on 5-of-6 shooting) near the rim as the Zags worked to solve the changing Xavier defenses. His final totals of 19 points and eight rebounds allowed Gonzaga to establish its inside game and provide openings for its shooters.

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Rushed Reactions: #11 Xavier 73, #2 Arizona 71

Posted by rtmsf on March 24th, 2017

RTC is providing coverage from start to finish of the NCAA Tournament for the next three weeks.

Xavier’s Cinderella Dance Continues for a Couple More Days. (USA Today Images)

Key Takeaways.

  1. Xavier Just Kept Coming. After starting the game down 7-0… after finding itself facing an eight-point deficit with 3:44 remaining… even after missing the front end of a one-and-one that could have salted the game away with 22 seconds remaining… Xavier kept coming. And it figures, given that this group of Musketeers — left virtually for dead after losing star guard Edmond Sumner to a season-ending injury at the end of January — have stared adversity in the face and laughed. Arizona desperately tried to put Xavier away in the second half, but Chris Mack’s club would never quite allow enough separation. That relentless nature of continually applying pressure ultimately caused Arizona to crack, sending the Wildcats back to the desert without a trip to the Final Four in Glendale attached.
  2. Arizona’s Home Stretch OffenseSay what you want about how Xavier put itself into great position to win with its relentlessness and its clever offensive sets — all true — but Arizona did not help itself by completely forgetting about Lauri Markkanen inside (his last shot came at 11:12 remaining in the second half) and over-relying on the hot hand of Allonzo Trier to carry them home. For an eight-minute period from 13:28 to 5:26 remaining in the game, Trier was cooking with some gas. He nailed six of his seven shots, including three three-pointers, in contributing 15 straight points for the Wildcats. He missed his final three attempts, all of which were jumpers. The problem with the strategy of letting Trier do his thing is that it basically killed the Arizona offense. The Wildcats’ final stretch included several awful possessions, including a post-up by Dusan Ristic that started behind the basket and a handful of other drives that turned into bad misses. During a point in the game when Arizona should have been executing to get fouls to hold its lead, it reeked of desperation to hold on for dear life. It was as if they were trying to wish the clock away rather than continuing to play.
  3. Sean Miller’s Early Career Legacy. There will be a lot written about this topic in Arizona and beyond — some fair, some not — but the fact remains that Sean Miller’s early career at Arizona has been filled with great regular season success, multiple high NBA Draft picks, and a painful legacy in the regionals. Despite receiving some favorable draws in terms of location within the West Region geographic footprint — allowing for its formidable crowd to turn neutral-site arenas into Tucson West or North — it hasn’t seemed to help. Some will argue that Miller’s losses to the likes of Wisconsin in 2015 or Connecticut in 2011 were to outstanding teams that simply were not going to be denied. While a fair point, the fact remains that three of Miller’s four best teams (2011, 2014, 2017) have had the ball with the final possession yet still fell short. In all three of those games, late execution was a factor. At a certain point, a series of close devastating losses begin to weigh on a program as well as a head coach — it’s safe to say that we’re to that point in Tucson. The Wildcats played tight in the final four minutes today, and the fans all around the building could sense it.

Star of the Game. Trevon Bluiett, Xavier. Bluiett carried the Musketeers in the first half, scoring 18 of his game-high 25 points on 7-of-8 from the field including a pair of threes. He was quieter in the second half, but he hit the big three to keep Xavier alive after they had gone down by eight points with just under four minutes remaining. He’s been outstanding in the NCAA Tournament, averaging 25.0 PPG and knocking down 47.8 percent of his three-point shots.

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Rushed Reactions: #11 Xavier 91, #3 Florida State 66

Posted by Walker Carey on March 18th, 2017

Rush the Court is providing NCAA Tournament coverage from start to finish over the next three weeks.

Xavier Did What Xavier Does in the Postseason (USA Today Images)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Xavier’s outside shooting was incredible. There are games when teams just catch fire from the outside and an opponent can do nothing to stop it. That occurred tonight with Xavier, as the Musketeers finished the game hitting a scorching 64.7 percent from the three-point line. What made this performance so impactful is that it was not just one guy who caught fire — the entire team contributed. Five different Musketeers connected from long range with reserve freshman forward Kaiser Gates leading the way with four conversions. Xavier’s marksmanship thus far in the NCAA Tournament — 50 percent through two games — is completely unexpected, as the Musketeers finished the regular season ranked 211th nationally at just 33.0 percent. It will be interesting to see if Xavier is able to keep up the hot shooting next week in San Jose.
  2. Florida State’s performance left plenty to be desired. Las Vegas made Florida State a 7.5-point favorite entering tonight’s game with good reason. The Seminoles have legitimate NBA talent across the roster in guards Dwayne Bacon and Xavier Rathan-Mayes, along with forward Jonathan Isaac. Having that kind of talent advantage did not do them any good, though, as Xavier dominated the game for the entire 40 minutes. Florida State looked ill-prepared on both ends of the court, as it took bad shot after bad shot on one end and allowed the Musketeers open looks on the other. It also seems dumbfounding how the Seminoles have a player like Isaac — currently projected to be the ninth pick in this summer’s NBA Draft — manage only seven shot attempts. Florida State was a bit on an enigma for the entire season, and many doubted its ability win away from Tallahassee, so losing in blowout fashion to a #11 seed proves that those concerns had merit.
  3. Xavier’s chance in the Sweet Sixteen should not be discounted. A lesson the NCAA Tournament has taught college basketball fans since its inception is to never discount a hot team. Right now, despite being an overlooked #11 seed that lost six of its last seven regular season games, the Musketeers certainly qualify. Bluiett has been excellent in the NCAA Tournament, while supporting players such as guard J.P. Macura and forwards Tyrique Jones and Sean O’Mara have provided terrific complementary performances. Chris Mack has shown time and time again that he should be considered among the country’s best tacticians, and despite losing point guard Edmond Sumner for the season in late January, his team regrouped and found a way to advance to the NCAA Tournament’s second weekend.

Player of the Game. Trevon Bluiett, Xavier. The junior forward turned in another star performance in the victory, finishing the night with 29 points on a very efficient 8-of-14 shooting. Bluiett’s length in Xavier’s 2-3 zone also bothered Florida State’s offense all night, which aided with the Seminoles only shooting 40 percent for the game. Bluiett has been a standout player for much of his career at Xavier, but he has taken his game to another level in this year’s NCAA Tournament.

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Rushed Reactions: #11 Xavier 76, #6 Maryland 65

Posted by Walker Carey on March 16th, 2017

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) is in Orlando this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Xavier Looked Like the Better Team All Day Today (USA Today Images)

  1. A hot Trevon Bluiett is nearly unstoppable. There are some players who just need to see the ball go in the net once for their games to completely turn on a dime. That situation happened with Xavier junior forward Trevon Bluiett in tonight’s victory, as he was able to shake off a poor first half (just three points on 1-of-8 shooting) and completely dominate the second stanza in his team’s favor. Bluiett scored 18 of his game-high 21 points after the break, reaching a point where everyone in the gym knew anything he shot was likely going in. Bluiett’s second half tear carried over from his performance at last week’s Big East Tournament when he scored 44 of his 58 points after halftime. Xavier will undoubtedly take Bluiett warming up after halftime if it means more victories, but the Musketeers have to wonder what it would mean if Bluiett was hot for an entire game.
  2. Sean O’Mara came off the bench to provide Xavier a consistent post presence. It would make sense if Sean O’Mara had not been a key component of Maryland’s incoming scouting report. The junior big man entered today’s contest averaging a modest 5.5 points and 2.8 rebounds per game, as Xavier is far better known for its perimeter attack than its interior play. You better believe Maryland knows a lot about O’Mara now after he turned in a career-best performance in the 11-point victory. O’Mara finished the game with 18 points (5-of-6 FG and 8-of-9 FT) and seven rebounds. The Terps had no answer for his work in the post, as big man Damonte Dodd struggled all evening and was exploited by the far more athletic O’Mara.
  3. Maryland was overseeded. It is easy in hindsight to point to problems with how certain teams were seeded, but anyone who watched today’s game will tell you that Maryland was not worthy of a #6 seed. The Terrapins were disjointed for much of the game on both ends of the court, and it often appeared that they were just waiting around for junior guard Melo Trimble to make a play. This was a questionable strategy because Trimble struggled all night, finishing with 13 points on just 5-of-15 shooting. The bracket cannot be changed in retrospect, but you have to think the NCAA Tournament may have been a little better if the Terrapins were actually placed where they belonged.

Player of the Game. Trevon Bluiett, Xavier. The game changed for the Musketeers when Bluiett got going in the second half. The junior Indianapolis native finished the game with 21 points (7-of-15 FG and 5-of-10 3FG) and made his presence felt on the defensive end by nabbing three steals. Bluiett was the best player on the floor throughout the second 20 minutes and Xavier’s win would not have been possible without him coming alive.

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Rushed Reactions: Creighton 75, Xavier 72

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 10th, 2017

RTC’s Justin Kundrat (@justinkundrat) is providing on-site coverage of the Big East Tournament all week long.

Marcus Foster’s Big Shot Carried Creighton to the Finals (USA Today Images)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Consistent play from Justin Patton is a major determinant of Creighton’s postseason success. He’s gotten some flak lately for inconsistent scoring and sub-par defense but the numbers don’t lie. With the 7’0″ freshman on the floor, Creighton allows just 0.95 points per possession — when he’s on the bench, this number stands at 1.06. For a 70-possession game, this amounts to a difference of seven points allowed per game. Moreover, Patton’s impact on the offensive end as a catch-and-finish rim threat and capable three-point shooter have been long admired by scouts, and Friday night’s output was a perfect showcase: Patton poured in a highly efficient 21 points on 10-for-13 shooting.
  2. Xavier’s inexperience at the point guard position is overblown. Obviously, the injury to Edmond Sumner does more harm than good, but freshman Quentin Goodin has come a long way in averaging 7.4 points and 5.2 assists per game in his absence. There are many similarities to their games, notably the ability to channel well-timed passes to the post and a tendency to attack the basket, making Goodin an ideal substitute. As such, while the freshman isn’t nearly the same finisher as his counterpart, his recent bout of confidence has given Chris Mack‘s four-out perimeter offense much more room to run with results following.
  3. Tonight marked a revival of two struggling offenses. Xavier’s turnaround got underway earlier this week after a string of poor performances marked by questionable shot selection and decision-making. Meanwhile, Creighton broke a three-game skid of sub-32 percent three-point shooting, an unusual slump for a team that is averaging 40 percent on the season. Needless to say, confidence plays a vital role in offensive efficiency and both teams are turning things around at the right time.

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Xavier Has a Big Man Problem

Posted by Justin Kundrat on December 6th, 2016

Like every other reasonable college basketball coach, Chris Mack assembles his lineups to best match his roster. For example, this meant spreading the floor last season around an adept big man who could rebound, pass out of the low post, and convert around the rim. With a similarly constructed backcourt this time around, Mack has implemented the same strategy, opting to let the play-making abilities of his three-headed monster of wings shine while others perform the dirty work. When it works, the Musketeers dominate the glass and generate countless offensive opportunities via putbacks, kickouts and free throws. But the inverse is a slogging half-court offense that cannot generate enough spacing to propel its interior-focused point of attack. While the results don’t quite reflect this, there is a clear disconnect between the two years of offensive output and it starts with Xavier’s big men and ends with putting the ball in the basket.

The obvious problem is that neither James Farr nor Jalen Reynolds is on this year’s team. Both were consistent in averaging just shy of double figure scoring and combining for nearly 15 rebounds per game, but neither was a go-to guy. The rebounding void has been filled this year by transfer RaShid Gaston and freshman Tyrique Jones, but while both might be tenacious on the glass, neither newcomer is very adept on the offensive end.

 

Below is Xavier’s shot chart against Baylor. Subpar perimeter shooting aside, the Musketeers missed an astounding number of shots within three feet of the basket:

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The Best of the Big East: Creighton, Xavier, Villanova

Posted by Eugene Rapay on November 11th, 2016

The Big East microsite will be rolling out previews on all 10 teams this week, sorted into three tiers. Today we review the projected top tier of teams — Creighton, Xavier and Villanova. RTC’s bottom and middle tier previews were published earlier this week.

#3: Creighton

Maurice Watson Jr leads a Creighton team poised to make some noise. (AP)

Maurice Watson Jr leads a Creighton team poised to make some noise. (AP)

Since joining the Big East, Creighton has mainly been on the outside looking in. Yes, the Bluejays’ first year in the league was great with NPOY Doug McDermott leading the way, but Creighton has yet to be the same since he departed Omaha. That’s bound to change soon as the Bluejays are poised to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the 2013-14 season. They’ll do so behind the play of point guard Maurice Watson, Jr. Not only is Watson a very good scorer, averaging a team-high 14.4 points per game last season, but he’s also a tremendous distributor. His 6.5 assists per game led the Big East and represented the 12th-highest assist rate (38.8%) in college basketball. Teammates flourish off of Watson’s setups.

Unlike those McDermott teams, last year’s Creighton squad excelled at scoring inside. The Bluejays sported the 14th best two-point shooting percentage (54.5%) in America, but fell around the middle of the pack in shooting from three-point range (35.5%). Creighton hopes to improve on its perimeter shooting weakness with the eligibility of Kansas State transfer Marcus Foster and freshman Davion Mintz. Foster in particular hopes to replicate the success he had during an all-Big 12 freshman year when he made nearly 40 percent of his three-point shots. Aside from the issue with perimeter shooting, the Bluejays also need to replace highly efficient center Geoffrey Groselle, a big man who averaged 11.2 points and 6.1 rebounds per game last season while shooting at a 70 percent clip. Creighton recruited a four-star forward in Justin Patton, who is likely to be tested early as Toby Hegner nurses an injury that will sideline him for the beginning of the season. Can head coach Greg McDermott make the new pieces jibe?

#2: Xavier

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Big East’s Burning Questions: NCAA Tournament Edition

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 16th, 2016

With five NCAA Tournament teams seeded anywhere from #2 to a #9, the expectations for the Big East this season are all over the map. Let’s take a look at the single biggest question surrounding the postseason success of each program heading into the first weekend.

Is this the year Jay Wright and company finally make their long awaited run to the Final Four? (Getty)

Is this the year Jay Wright’s group finally makes another run? (Getty)

VillanovaCan the Wildcats finally break through to the Sweet Sixteen? This narrative has seemingly lasted forever. After a number of exits in the Second Round, many pundits are writing off Jay Wright‘s squad. The reasons are all over the place: a lack of true NBA-level talent; a lack of interior depth; limited athleticism; over-reliance on the three-pointer. But what the narrative fails to capture is that the team’s dynamic continues to evolve with each passing year — players gain experience, develop new skill sets and build cohesion. People desperately wanted to craft the three-point shooting storyline around this year’s team but it simply hasn’t held up. Yes, Villanova shoots threes, but they are rarely contested. They are simply a manifestation of an offense where the primary options are to use Josh Hart in the lane or Daniel Ochefu on the low block. Iowa isn’t the type of team to give Villanova problems, nor is an undersized and poor-shooting Temple team. Expect the narrative to finally unwind this March.

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Bracket Prep: East Region

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 14th, 2016

bracketprep22

On Monday and Tuesday we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: Monday (East and West); Tuesday (South and Midwest). Here, Brian Otskey (@botskey) breaks down the East Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC East Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCeastregion).

East Region

Favorite: No. 1 North Carolina (28-6, 14-4 ACC). Although this region is loaded from top to bottom, the ACC regular season and tournament champions are the clear favorite. Roy Williams has one of the nation’s most talented teams with seniors Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige leading the way. Contending with Johnson is a nightmare for most teams. A relentless rebounder who averages a double-double, Johnson is one of the nation’s most efficient players. Carolina has weaknesses — namely three-point shooting and three-point defense — but the way it utilizes great athleticism to speed up the game makes the Heels hard to beat.

UNC

The ACC regular season and tournament champions are the favorite to take the East Region. (Photo: Todd Melet)

Should They Falter: No. 4 Kentucky (26-8, 13-5 SEC). Yes, we’re going to roll with the Wildcats here. John Calipari’s team has made Final Fours from lower seeded positions — most notably in 2011 and 2014. This is not a vintage Kentucky team by any means, but it is highly talented and Coach Cal has proven that he can push the right buttons in March. College basketball is a guards’ game and Kentucky has that in spades with Tyler Ulis, Jamal Murray and Isaiah Briscoe. The lack of a major threat inside and occasionally spotty defense are definite concerns, but Kentucky has the talent and athletes to get by North Carolina in a potential Sweet Sixteen matchup.

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Rushed Reactions: Seton Hall 87, Xavier 83

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 12th, 2016

rushedreactions

Three Key Takeaways:

Khadeen Carrington starred in another Seton Hall victory. (Credit: (USA Today Sports Images)

  1. Derrick Gordon changed the tide in the first half. Seton Hall’s lone senior created havoc on the defensive end with his deflections and hustle plays all over the floor. He was everywhere and set the tone for the Pirates, who used a 24-12 first half run to take control of the game. Gordon was one of the most important acquisitions on the transfer market this offseason and has provided Seton Hall with the leadership it desperately needed after last season’s collapse. His hustle and will to win were on display again tonight and made a huge difference in the outcome. His experience and selfless play is invaluable to a talented but still quite young group of Pirates.
  2. Seton Hall matched Xavier’s toughness and physicality. The Musketeers are known for their relentless, hard-nosed brand of basketball. Tonight they encountered an opponent more than willing to play just as tough and just as physical, and Xavier didn’t react well to that. In particular, the Pirates got under the skin of J.P. Macura and Jalen Reynolds; both players picked up technical fouls and eventually fouled out. The physicality of the game played right into Seton Hall’s hands as it turned up the defense and held Xavier to 34.9 percent shooting for the game. It was an impressive display by a young team that doesn’t seem have fear of any opponent.
  3. Seton Hall is a dangerous NCAA Tournament team. The Pirates are clicking on all cylinders right now. Their defense has been strong all year and ranks among the top 15 nationally in adjusted efficiency, but the difference maker has been an improved offense. Seton Hall struggled earlier in the year with stagnancy, but their chemistry and ball movement has improved by leaps and bounds over the course of the last five weeks. That’s due in large part to Isaiah Whitehead‘s stellar play, but also a result of increased contributions from complementary players like Desi Rodriguez and Khadeen Carrington. Seton Hall will win games with its defense and rebounding, but the added offensive punch makes them a legitimate threat to make the NCAA Tournament’s second weekend.

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