This is the last non conference game of the year for UC. It is nothing but Big East battles for the rest of the season. So while I very much dislike the idea of having such an emotionally charged game take place within the flow of conference play, it might serve this UC team well. As we all know the non conference schedule has been shit. Long on cream puffs and blowouts, short on sustained intensity and important minutes late in the second half. If there is one thing that is usually a given in Shootouts is that they are very intense, very tight games that are rarely decided before the final four or so minutes. So in that respect it should serve as a litmus test to gauge where this UC team is at heading into a pretty brutal stretch of Big East games. After Xavier the next five are at Villanova, home to South Florida, at Syracuse, at Notre Dame, and at St. Johns. That is a brutal stretch, particularly the last three, and it represents a massive scaling up in terms of competitiveness and intensity. So having the Shootout now might actually be a good thing for UC. Whatever your opinion on the placement of the game, it is taking place tomorrow so it is time to get a little bit in depth about what to expect from this game.
Xavier is a one man band in the same way that UConn is a one man band. The One Man fronting the band at UConn is much better than the one fronting in Norwood, but the dynamics are pretty similar. For Xavier everything, and I do mean every single thing, revolves around Tu Holloway. He is the only true point guard on their roster and as such he plays an extraordinary amount of minutes. Holloway has played 38 or more minutes in 10 games, in the 3 OT win versus Wofford he damn near matched his jersey number in minutes played 51 of them. So he is the only PG and he plays all the minutes. .Watching this Xavier team is a lot like watching that Fresh Prince of Bel Air episode where Will joined the Bel Air Academy Basketball team. Chris Mack does that for a reason because Holloway is literally the only player on the Xavier roster that is capable of making plays off the dribble either for himself or for others.
The only person that comes close in that regard is Mark Lyons, and he is not a lead guard by any stretch of the imagination. He is much better playing off the ball letting Holloway do the work of breaking the press or setting up the offense. If he has to go it alone to get shots for himself the results aren't pretty. Lyons hasn't played well of late, just 10 points combined in losses to Gonzaga and Florida on 4 of 22 shooting, with 3 rebounds, 2 assists and 4 turnovers.
Kenny Frease is still the post presence for the Muskies and he certainly looks more nimble than he used to. So I guess he is now an
explosive athletic sloth. He is still really really big and really unimpressive to my eyes. But he is playing well right now for Xavier. He gets his points in a very similar way to Ibrahima Thomas. Frease hits the offensive glass hard and gets a lot of put back looks. As far as I am concerned the only time I worry about Kenny Frease is on rebounds. He is not even a little bit of a threat in the post, and that's with either Yancy Gates or Thomas guarding him.
Beyond those three it is a whole lot of nothing. Jameel McClean and Dante Jackson are capable scores and defenders. They can make big shots and make plays. But they have been completely shunted to the side by Chris Mack in favor of the new All Tu, All The Time offense.
Xavier is not a deep team this year, they really only play about six guys, the five mentioned above and Jeff Robinson. So totting all the evidence up Xavier doesn't have a lot of depth, they play six guys, beyond Holloway they don't really have a good perimeter player who can control play and they have one interior guy. I don't know about you, but to me that sounds a lot like DePaul. Xavier is more talented than the Blue Demons, but there is a pretty strong resemblance between the two in my mind.