If you haven’t heard about Xavier men’s basketball to this point, then you probably live under a rock. At 18-2, Xavier has its best record through 20 games in team history. Halfway through BIG EAST play, Xavier has handled the tough conference pretty well, with the only losses coming at Villanova (in kind of an abnormal game) and at home against an underrated, tough Georgetown team.
It’s been quite a while since I wrote. In fact, the last time I wrote, X was undefeated and absolutely rolling. Then came a trip to Philadelphia, and the clunker that every team must face at some point during the season came. Freshman sensation Edmond Sumner was injured after going hard to the basket, taking an inadvertent elbow and being landed on by a Wildcat player. He was stabilized and taken off the court on a stretcher, leaving the entire team and coaching staff visibly rattled, and understandably so at that. The suddenly uninspiring Musketeers caught the talented Wildcats on a good day, and Villanova rolled to a victory.
The important thing, however, is that Sumner was okay- he escaped the day with only a minor concussion, and after missing three games he was back. I don’t know if they win that game at Villanova if he never gets hurt, but they definitely don’t lose by 30. I’m looking forward to when Villanova comes to the Cintas Center on Feburary 24th.
The only other loss came at home to Georgetown. From the stands, I just saw a Georgetown squad that was a bit more fired up and inspired. It showed in their play- they were opportunistic, took advantage of Xavier’s mistakes, and cashed in on their free throws. I won’t claim the officiating was up to par in that game, but it’s absolutely not the reason that Xavier lost.
Other than those two games, Xavier has handled their tough BIG EAST schedule well. They’ve beaten Butler handily in Cincinnati, which is a solid win, despite the Bulldogs’ recent struggles. They’ve also seen wins against St. John’s, Seton Hall, DePaul, Marquette, and most recently, a top-ten team in Providence.
Most of the schools I just mentioned are more towards the bottom of the barrel in terms of position in the standings. The win at Providence, however, showed the toughness that the Musketeers have to offer. Going away to face a top-ten team coming off a recent win at Villanova, along with being winners of their last three or four straight games against ranked opponents, is no easy task. That’s especially when you consider that Kris Dunn, arguably the nation’s best player, is running the point and Ben Bentil, a talented forward from Delaware, has come into his own and then some.
However, the Musketeers played their game. They dominated on the boards, they hit their threes when they had to, and they moved the ball effectively. They’re a team that runs 8 or 9 deep, which is a pain in the ass for teams to keep up with. Once they got down by more than 10, the thin Friars squad had themselves a real uphill battle. I thought this game was one of the Musketeers’ better wins on the season.
This Saturday, the Musketeers will find themselves in Chicago to take on DePaul for the second time. The road doesn’t get easier for the Musketeers here. Coach Chris Mack’s squad closes out the season with 6 of their final 7 games coming against the top half of the conference- at Creighton, at Butler, vs. Providence, at Georgetown, vs. Villanova, and the second matchup against Creighton.
My confidence is growing with each passing game- they just look like a team that can make a deep tournament run. I mean, they’ve definitely got the talent to go beat anyone in the country. Sumner has proven to be a legitimate NBA prospect as a 6’6” point guard. Trevon Bluiett has really taken strides in his second year on Victory Parkway, and in my opinion, he’s one of the best two-way players in the conference. Though he hasn’t played up to par due to getting in foul trouble recently, Jalen Reynolds showed everyone why he was on the preseason All-BIG EAST team with 15 points and 11 rebounds at Providence. If he keeps finding his groove, teams will be having nightmares over him. Remy Abell, while he hasn’t shot particularly well this season, is the Richard Sherman of college basketball- there’s no scoring on him if he’s covering you. Myles Davis, one of the best free throw shooters in the country, has a knack for catching fire quickly and hitting big shots down the stretch. He’s a guy you need on your team.
What really excites me, though, is this team’s depth. James Farr would be starting on most teams in the BIG EAST. But instead, he’s the 6th man at X, and when hot, there’s no stopping Big Game James. He dominates the glass and has his way down low near the basket. That’s not to mention three-point specialist and hustler JP Macura, big man Sean O’Mara, freshman forward Kaiser Gates, and the quick Larry Austin Jr.
Still expecting a BIG EAST championship. Still expecting a run to at least the Sweet Sixteen. Yeah, I’m knocking on wood as I type that. But if there’s any team I’m confident in, it’s the Xavier Musketeers.
Cover photo courtesy of musketeermadness.com