When Xavier lost to Oral Roberts, one could blame the suspensions of Tu Holloway, Mark Lyons and Dezmine Wells.
When the Musketeers went 1-2 in Hawaii at the Diamond Classic, one could point to the loss of Lyons for a game and Wells for the entire trip.
What about the last two games, though?
Everyone is back in the fold for Xavier, yet the Musketeers are still losing. They dropped a game to Gonzaga over the weekend, and then lost to La Salle by 10 on Wednesday night.
Everyone figured Xavier would stumble a bit after its brawl with Cincinnati, due to the suspensions. But this? Losses in five of its last six games?
It all starts with the attitude on the court from Xavier. Prior to the brawl, the Musketeers were one of the most confident teams in the country. Holloway and Lyons were tough and talented – and they knew it. They played like it. Suddenly, the mojo is completely gone.
It doesn’t seem to be a chemistry issue, but nevertheless, there’s something obviously missing between the players.
“They’re lacking swagger and confidence,” one opposing coach said.
On the court, Xavier has been settling for too many jumpers – not a good sign from a team that barely shoots 33 percent from 3-point range. Holloway has been attacking the basket with less aggressiveness, instead taking long jumpers to the tune of 5-for-21 since his return. Lyons is just 6-for-21 from behind the arc in the last four games.
Xavier’s offense is at its best when Lyons and Holloway are taking opponents off the dribble and finishing in the lane.
“The guards are very streaky shooters,” one assistant coach who faced Xavier recently said. “They have one of the lowest 3-point makes per game in their league. The game has become 3’s.”
“We don’t respect their 3-point shooting,” a coach added.
The Musketeers are also getting fewer transition opportunities, which has made the offense stagnant. Xavier beats opponents down the court for easy baskets, going on runs and putting the other team on its heels. The last six games – save for the Gonzaga game – the defense has been forcing fewer turnovers than usual. Against La Salle, Xavier forced turnovers on just 9.5 percent of possessions.
When Xavier is forced to play in the half-court, the offense struggles.
“They are slashing guards,” an opposing coach said. “They can’t score in the half-court; they score a lot in transition.”
Another problem on the defensive end has been their inability to stop dribble penetration and opponents’ perimeter offense. La Salle hit nine 3-pointers on Wednesday night, and teams are also getting into the lane too easily. Xavier starts two inside players in Andre Walker and Kenny Frease, and teams are taking advantage of that with inside-outside forwards.
La Salle’s Earl Pettis went for 23 against Xavier, while Josten Thomas had 24 when Hawai’i faced the Musketeers. Even in their lone win in the last six games, the Musketeers still struggled to contain versatile forwards – freshman Dantiel Daniels scored 22.
“In my opinion, they are too big and don’t use their bigs well enough,” one coach said. “They never go four guards and we drove their other big every time. It’s a guards’ game and they don’t have enough guards. If they are going to be big, they need to use it to their strength.”
When Holloway and Lyons are rolling, Xavier can beat anyone in the country. The first eight games of the season proved that; Holloway was in the running for Player of the Year and Lyons was becoming one of the most underrated players around. With those two as the leaders, the Musketeers should be able to turn this around. A couple of wins in a row, and Xavier could get its momentum and swagger back.
With the talent Chris Mack has at his disposal, it’s tough to doubt the Musketeers in the final two months of the season.
“They can fix it,” one opposing assistant said. “They are good.”
Photo: US Presswire