Fifty three and one.
That's got to be the opening line of the Xavier preview, because that's the Muskies' record in home conference games since the 2006-07 season. That's, um, impressive. Xavier had won 43 straight conference games at home before St. Louis beat them last January.
This VCU team still has the acidic taste of 10,000 screaming fans rooting for their failure. The stench of a bad game hangs in their nostrils. Shaka Smart was open about saying the St. Louis crowd initially bothered the Rams.
All of it is motivation for a team that plays well when motivated. VCU is at its best when faced with unwinnable circumstances and hilariously impressive statistics and star players. And now a raucous crowd can be checked off the experience list.
- Xavier is second in scoring defense in the A-10, giving up less than 62ppg, and they are third in field goal percentage defense (41%).
- The Muskies are 13-3 when scoring 60 or more points, and 2-7 when scoring 57 or fewer.
- Xavier is one of only four teams that have made the Sweet 16 four times in the last five years (Kansas, Michigan State, North Carolina).
Bonus fourth fact: Head coach Chris Mack has two former CAA assistant coaches on his staff: Ashley Howard (Drexel) and Mike Pegues (Delaware). Both are in their first year at Xavier and are obviously well-versed in all things VCU.
Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five Things I'm Watching
1. Those Three Words. Semaj Christian is no ordinary Freshman (1) Point (2) Guard (3). "You will see him in the NBA one day," said Shaka Smart. Though averaging 17ppg in conference play, Christon has also turned the ball over 42 times in 12 games (just 47 assists). The key is getting Christon frustrated. It isn't necessarily the turnovers–though those would be nice–but more the mental frustration of getting Xavier's top scorer thinking about something other than scoring.
2. Those Other Three Words. This one is simple. Defending (1) The (2) Basketball (3) is very important. Outside of Brad Redford, Xavier only has only three other players that have a made three-pointer in conference play. None of the three have hit double-figures in made threes, and none have hit one-third of their attempts. Xavier will not beat VCU from beyond the arc, but they are shooting 46% in A10 play, tops in the conference. Translation: lock the basketball down in the halfcourt, keeping Christon and Dee Davis out of the lane. Xavier's at its best when the guards are driving and providing dump downs to the post.
3. Three More Words. Mano (1) E (2) Mano (3). Juvonte Reddic has to be the best post player on the floor, and drub Travis Taylor in their individual matchup. Taylor has just six blocks in 12 conference games, so I want to see Reddic go to work early with jump hooks and reverse layups. Then, step out and shoot the face-up 15-footer. On defense it isn't about locking down Taylor, but rather making smart decisions when guards drive or a second post man gets the basketball. It's brute force on offense and mental sharpness on defense.
4. Oscar Wilde Would Approve. The importance of being earnest, on the glass, is important to many teams, but especially Xavier. In their past 15 games, Xavier has outrebounded its opponent 14 times. Dayton evened out the glasswork and beat the Muskies two games ago. Their defensive rebounding percentage is 71.8%–51st nationally. It isn't about winning the rebounding category. I'm looking for competitiveness. Nothing is more dispiriting than getting killed on the glass, on the road. Plus, being aggressive on the glass many times is a tell to VCUs aggressiveness in other areas. Keep an eye on the Rams offensive rebounding.
5. Three Final Words. When you're on the road, it's important to Be (1) More (2) Efficient (3). The frustration factor in point #1 plays out thusly: Christon can score 16 points, but he has to do so on 18 shots, not eight. A player like Isaiah Philmore cannot go 5-6 from the field. Redford can't knock down 2-3 from three. For VCUs offense, it's turning stops into scores, especially off turnovers. It's getting into the lane for short shots, and knocking down a decent percentage of threes. Those "little things" cliches are what leads to efficient play.
We Don't Work For Free
Semaj Christon (15.2ppg, 4.4apg) is a stud freshman point guard who prefers getting into the lane and to the rim. Christon has gotten to the foul line 47 times in their last five games. He's a little loose with the ball but when he has it good things happen.
Travis Taylor (11.8ppg, 8.6rpg) is a 6-8 post who transferred from Monmouth who can physically dominate. Taylor has eight double-doubles this year, including a 13/17 on Rhody Wednesday night. Oddly, Xavier is 0-7 when he's their leading scorer.
Dee Davis (8.7ppg, 3.5apg) also handles the ball and is 6-1 but just 160 pounds. He can shoot the three (31-80, 38.8%). He's also made 31 twos (31-71). He is their best defender but it will be an interesting matchup because Brandenberg can eat him alive physically.
Justin Martin (8.4ppg, 4.9rpg) is averaging 12/6 over the past five games and has the ability to carry a team at times. He is the most explosive player on the roster not named Christon, and Xavier's most athletic.
Jeff Robinson (7.2ppg, 4.9rpg) is a 6-10, 225-pound senior and a program guy. Robinson can play the 5, 4, and 3 spots and he prefers to play in space. He won't wow you, but he will be effective.
Brad Redford (7.0ppg,1.0rpg) is a familar character to VCU fans. Redford has bombed away at 49-115, 42.6% from three, and just 5-21 from two. Sound familiar? Redford hit 7-8 from three against GW.
Isaiah Philmore (6.4ppg, 4.8rpg) is a recognizable 6-8 workhorse who is solid in all phases of the game. He transferred from Towson. Philmore went 14/4 in a 2011 game won by the Rams.
Erik Stenger (1.8ppg, 2.3rpg) and Landon Amos will both see spot duty. Amos is 1-12 from the field and 7-14 fromth line this season.
We say havoc lives here regarding games in The Stu. That's accurate, but not totally correct. Havoc lives everywhere because it exists in hearts and minds. Havoc isn't a thing; it's a state of being. It's not a brand. It's a mindset.
It's like anything else where you see something beautiful and devastating, but in spurts. You only have to tap into it. But it's there, always, lurking just below the surface. It isn't about the opponent and it isn't about the venue. As written yesterday, success for this basketball team is being who we are, doing what we do.
My summary: I don't know that VCU will win this game, but I do know that VCU will play well. The faster the better–VCU can overwhelm Xavier with energy and spirit. You know, havocy things.
Fifty three and two.