By Luke Servello, Staff Writer
Whether you’re on the “Fire Steele” train or not, you have to acknowledge one thing: The trend of his Xavier teams fading down the stretch is cause for concern.
Xavier lost six of eight to end their season last year, four of six to end their season in 2020 and their 2019 season included a six-game losing streak in the later half of the season.
The 2021-2022 squad has now lost five of six and is moving closer and closer to the bubble after a brutal triple overtime loss against Providence. The Musketeers played well but ultimately ran out of gas after junior forward Jack Nunge and sophomore guard Dwon Odom fouled out.
Seton Hall defeated Xavier 73-71 in their first meeting, and the Pirates have had a solid season overall. They sit at 17-9 on the season and 8-8 in Big East play. The Pirates, unlike Xavier, come into Saturday’s game hot, as they’ve won five of their last seven and seem like a team that could make a sneaky run in the Big East tournament. Here are a couple players to watch on Seton Hall.
The Pirates’ best player this year has been Jared Rhoden. The senior forward averages 15.5 points per game to lead the team. Rhoden also leads the team in minutes played per game (32.9) and also is second on the team in rebounds per game (7.2).
Rhoden scored a game-high 25 points to lead all scorers in the first matchup between these two teams, Sophomore forward Colby Jones will be Xavier’s best bet to stop Rhoden. Jones has the length and athleticism to match up with him. It will be hard for Jones to completely shut Rhoden down, but he needs to make sure Rhoden doesn’t single-handedly beat Xavier.
Another guy to watch for on Seton Hall is Kadary Richmond. Richmond has had a bigger role on the Pirates since graduate student Bryce Aiken went down and will have to deal with the always-scrappy Paul Scruggs and company.
Speaking of Paul Scruggs, this is his fifth year at Xavier, and by and large, he’s had a very good career. However, Scruggs hasn’t been as good as expected in Big East play. He’s struggled with turnovers and hasn’t been a consistent scoring option for a Musketeers team that could badly use one.
This game on paper is a toss up. It’s the second-to-last home game for Xavier this year, and it’s a huge one.
Wednesday was a step in the right direction as the Musketeers fought for 55 minutes, but they need a win.
I don’t want to call it a must-win, but Xavier needs to stop the bleeding, and they need to stop it right now.