Whether you believe it or not, there are actually people out there who actively follow the Xavier Musketeers. While we should pity these lost souls, they are the best sources of information on Musketeer basketball, which is of particular interest this week as the Cincinnati Bearcats face them in the storied Crosstown Shootout. That’s what led us to have a conversation with Bryan D of fellow SB Nation site Banners on the Parkway about everything Musketeers.
Down the Drive: How is life without Chris Mack?
Brad D: It is obviously a lot different simply because of how long Mack was here and how much he accomplished. That being said, I think the signs are positive that the programs is going to continue heading in the right direction under Coach Steele. We have a top 15 class signed for next year and a special talent in Dwon Odom committed for 2020. The hiccups that we have seen are in game management, defensive schemes, and making quick and effective tactical adjustments, which I think any rookie coach is going to struggle with. Overall, we are happy, I would guess Coach Mack is happy with his top ranked class, and Xavier basketball continues to march forward.
DTD: It’s only been a handful of games, but have you noticed any differences in how Travis Steele leads this team compared to Mack?
BD: Coach Steele was far and away the popular choice to take over amongst the players, both current and past. He really seems like more of a players’ coach than Mack was, which has it’s own set of advantages and drawbacks. He is miles ahead of where Mack was when he started as far as implementing and running offenses, but defensive motivation has been an issue which he has taken to a few press conferences and laid out pretty plainly for the players.
DTD: What is the greatest strength of this team? What is the greatest weakness?
BD: Our greatest strength is the number of guys we have who can absolutely wreck an opponent when they get running downhill. Goodin, Scruggs, and Marshall are all excellent open floor players who excel when the put the ball on the floor and try to get into the lane, which opens things up with dump-offs to our bigs or kick outs to our shooters becoming available.
Weakness wise, it is definitely defensive focus. We have gotten absolutely torched from three for most of the season, and have had a bad habit of giving opponents too many of their own misses back as well. You don’t blow a 19 point lead against San Diego State or give up 18 made threes to Evansville if you are locked in on defense, and it has fluctuated all year whether we feel like trying on that end or not.
DTD: Balance seems to be a big part of the Musketeers’ offensive plan, with four players averaging in double figures. With that written, if they need one bucket, who is the go-to guy?
BD: Depending on the situation, it would be either Naji Marshall or Tyrique Jones. Naji has been up and down this year after losing 15 pounds to sickness right before the season. However, he is a long slasher who excels at finishing in the lane when he decides not to settle for a jump shot. He hit a big shot against Oakland on Saturday, and has been rounding into form as the season has gone on. Jones is a bruiser down low who dropped 25 pounds on purpose and has been gleefully dishing out punishment when he gets isolated on the post against anyone who guards him.
DTD: Bearcat fans will certainly “miss” J.P. Macura this season. Who is replacing his production, either as a player or as a villain for opposing teams?
BD: Production-wise, JP is hard to replace because of how varied his skill set was. Paul Scruggs is stepping into JP’s role as the kind of guy who can be an excellent second option, but also step up and grab the game by the scruff of the neck when need be. As far as villainy goes, allow me to introduce you to Zach Hankins. He is a grad transfer from D-II National Champions Ferris State and the reigning player of the year at that level. He is also a 6’10” white dude with cornrows and a penchant for letting opposing big men know anytime he block a shot or gets the better of them in the post. He goes by Hanky McSpanky, opponents hate him, and he revels in the hatred. I am just sad we only have him for one year.
DTD: What are your expectations for the rest of the season?
BD: I think we will continue to look like a team that is replacing their 4 highest usage offensive players and their coach for a while, but we have shown signs that there is the talent to contend with good teams. Some people (on our own website named Brad) are pretty skeptical about this team’s chances to do any better than .500 in the Big East, but I think we will keep figuring things out and end up 4th or 5th in the league and in the 9-11 range in the NCAA Tournament.
DTD: If you had to say one positive thing about the Bearcats, what would it be?
BD: Phil, I actually wrote an article full of nice things about UC a couple of shootouts ago. Although I don’t actually say anything positive about the school or team, it is a pretty heartfelt dissertation on my love for your fanbase. In all seriousness, I love that UC fans will continually give us grief no matter what and we give it right back. That is how a rivalry should be, not friendly at all, no cheering for the other guy when you two aren’t playing, just hoping the worst for the other program all the time.
DTD: Who wins this game and why?
BD: I think it will come down to the battle on the glass, where both teams like to get aggressive going after their own misses. X has one of the best offensive rebounders in the nation in Tyrique Jones, while UC’s gameplan seems to be either Cumberland shoots, or someone throws the ball at the rim and they hope for a stick back. I believe in Xavier’s size as long as Jones and Hankins avoid the virus that is currently affecting some of our players and I think Xavier cleans up the disaster we had on the glass last time we played at your place and gets the win.
DTD: BONUS QUESTION: Take your pick. What was the best movie, TV show, album, book or video game to come out this year?
BD: I’ve gotta go with the album Sleepwalkers by Brian Fallon, which came out in February. A decade ago, his band The Gaslight Anthem released The ’59 Sound, which for my money is one of the best albums of all time. He is on his own now, but his solo release this year is right up there with anything else he has ever done. He is from the same area of New Jersey as Bruce Springsteen and brings a similar vibe, but a bit more soulful and introspective.
For more Xavier content, follow Banners on the Parkway.