The men’s basketball team hit the road for games at St. John’s and Butler. Against St. John’s, Xavier came out firing on all cylinders and beat the Red Storm 84-73 at Carnesseca Arena. On Tuesday night at Hinkle Fieldhouse, Xavier suffered a 71-66 loss at the hands of the Bulldogs.
Here are some takeaways from Xavier’s recent slate of games.
It’s Naji’s world and we’re just living in it
Coming off two of his best games of the season in the wins over Villanova and Seton Hall, Naji Marshall followed it up with a career-high 31 points to go along with six rebounds in the win over St. John’s.
From the Creighton game to the St. John’s game, Marshall averaged 22.6 points per game along with 6.2 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game. The uptick in Marshall’s scoring can be attributed to his three-point shot falling at a much higher clip. Marshall averages 5.1 three-point attempts per game, but until recently, it wasn’t falling at a great percentage.
In his last five games, he’s been successful on 39.6 percent from distance rate compared to the 29.4 percent it had been at for the whole season. If Marshall’s shot remains consistent, he’ll continue to be one of the most dangerous players in the Big East.
The NCAA Tournament is within reach
A few weeks ago when Xavier was sitting at 3-8 in the Big East, it would’ve been laugh-out-loud funny for someone to suggest that it had a chance at the NCAA Tournament. At that point, even the NIT seemed out of reach. However, five straight wins can change a lot, and suddenly, Xavier is being looked at as a possible bubble team.
The Musketeers picked up three Quadrant 1 wins during their recent winning streak and lack a truly bad loss, with DePaul at home and Missouri on the road looking like Xavier’s two worst losses of the year. Still, there’s work to be done. As of March 5, Xavier was the sixth team out of the tournament, according to ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi, which means even if Xavier beats St. John’s on Saturday, it probably needs to win at least a game or two in the Big East Tournament to get legitimate tournament consideration. It’s definitely going to be an interesting few weeks in Cincinnati.
Breaking the press is an issue
When St. John’s started to press Xavier late in the game, the Musketeers turned the ball over, and it led to easy points for the Johnnies and let them get back into the game. It’s not a new issue for Xavier, as its press break has been an issue all year long. If it wants to have success going forward, and in a postseason tournament (NCAA or NIT), the Musketeers will have to improve their offense against the press.
Making free throws and limiting turnovers is a necessity
Xavier has not shot the free throw that well all season, and it has the worst free throw percentage in the Big East (69 percent). The Musketeers missed late charity-stripe opportunities that hampered their ability to cut the Bulldogs’ late lead. Xavier went 5 for 11 from the free throw line in a game it lost by five points.
Turnovers also remain an issue, with 16 giveaways against St. John’s and 15 against Butler. A key turnover late when Xavier was down by three to Butler spoiled a chance to tie the game. Giveaways has been an area that has doomed the Musketeers for a big part of the season, and it’s an issue that can be cleaned up before the Big East Tournament next week.
By: Joe Clark | Staff Writer