The guys over at Xaiver's SB Nation site, Banners on the Parkway, know their basketball. Check out some strong analysis on Xavier's basketball team.
BSD: Your team appears to be an enigma about one-third of a way into the season. On one hand you are beating Tennessee, Cincinnati and Alabama, yet on the other you are losing to teams like USC and barely beating Evansville. What would you attribute this to?
Over the offseason, Xavier added finally-eligible freshmen Myles Davis and Jalen Reynolds incoming freshmen Kamall Richards and Brandon Randolph, and newly-eligible transfer Matt Stainbrook. In addition, James Farr morphed from a dude who got 42 minutes all year as a freshman to an unstoppable machine. After waltzing through the cupcake portion of the schedule, X had it all come apart in the Bahamas and almost lost to two pretty poor teams after coming home.
More than anything, I think the Muskies were learning how to respond to adversity. Last year, Christon was options A-C on offense, with departed senior Travis Taylor next in line. This year, the team has a depth and breadth of talent, and it took them a bit to realize how much they could trust each other. You could see it fall into place in the UC game and the rubber met the road against Alabama. In foul trouble and down 12 in the second half on the road against an SEC opponent, the team stayed patient, stayed active, and stayed unselfish, ultimately climbing back to take a huge three-point win.
BSD: Xavier is led by guard Semaj Christon and center Matt Stainbrook. In your opinion, which of those two has been the more critical piece for the Musketeers so far this season?
As much as I believe in my heart that Semaj has a great future ahead of him as a pro, this one goes to Matt Stainbrook. Last season, the team lacked for a nuanced approach on offense, but Stainbrook's basketball IQ on the post has opened a whole new game for X. He is so smart with the ball that you can run the offense through him and count on his making the right decision; the team's willingness to throw it into the post and let Matt get a shot for himself or someone else is fun to watch. Add in his dominant efforts on the glass at both ends, his shot-blocking and surprising penchant for coming up with steals, and his unfettered enthusiasm for the game and the man they call the Stain Train is the acknowledged leader of the team.
BSD: Discuss Xavier's packline defense and how it has led Xavier to being one of the better defensive teams in the country (36th in adjusted defensive efficiency according to KenPom).
Xavier deviates from a true packline in that they usually have the bigs hedge over screens, but the principles of having one man on the ball and four offering a hand's worth of help in driving lanes are intact. Myles Davis is no great shakes as an on-ball defender, but guards Semaj Christon, Dee Davis, and Brandon Randolph are all quick and insanely persistent defenders.
In addition, Matt Stainbrook (discussed above), James Farr (6'9" forward with serious length), Jalen Reynolds (like Farr, but passionate about fouling as often as possible), and Erik Stenger (all-effort guy currently sidelined with an unidentified illness) all offer shot-blocking protection in the back line should someone slip through. The most impressive thing about Xavier's defense, though, may be their ability to force teams into one-and-done on the offensive end, which has been a huge momentum-changer in a couple of games where X really needed stops and scores to make a comeback.
BSD: What frightens you most about this Wake Forest team?
Their ability to force teams into one-and-done on the offensive end. While Xavier's offense can sputter at times, one constant in their stable of guys willing to go and get it on the offensive glass. Second-chance points are key to this team, and they're something that Wake has excelled in preventing. When the going gets tough and the breaks are beating the boys, X depends on offensive boards and the ensuing chances to score. If the Demon Deacons are holding Xavier to one shot per possession, that will not bode well for X.
BSD: Finally, give me a prediction for how this one plays out.
Xavier is riding high right now, while Wake is coming off an eight-point win over UNC Greensboro. I think Xavier's defense is successful enough in keeping the middle clogged up, and the Muskies are able to continue their recent run of good offensive results. Game stays tight for a while, but I see Xavier pulling away down the stretch for something on the order of a 71-60 win. What do I know, though?
Check out our preview of the game here.