By: Craig James
Xavier has one of their biggest weeks of the season this week. Sounds crazy to say this early in the season, but it’s reality. Two big games against two ranked teams, Baylor and UC. The Muskies fell to 21st in the AP Poll after getting blown out by Arizona State in Vegas. After the Sun Devils win, they moved to 20th in the polls. Xavier has the opportunity to get into the top 10 with two wins this week, as Baylor comes into the game ranked 16th and UC is 11th.
Xavier had some weaknesses exposed in their loss to ASU. ASU’s guards were much quicker than Xavier’s. The Muskies switched to their 1-3-1 zone, which at times is devastating for opposing offenses, and sometimes has more holes in it than Swiss cheese. It’s tough to figure out. Arizona State’s guards were like Reggie Miller from the corner in NBA Jam, they simply couldn’t miss. As a Xavier fan, I wasn’t mad about their performance, I was disappointed *Dad voice*. They were getting punched in the mouth and didn’t put up much of a fight. Trevon Bluiett didn’t have a good game and the Musketeers lost. Hopefully that is not a sign of things to come. This Xavier team is too deep to let that happen. Let’s not dwell on the past…let’s look forward to tonight’s big game at the Cintas Center.
Xavier has won 33 straight non-conference home games. Impressive stat and one that the Musketeers would like to continue. The Musketeers have a 6-2 record at the Cintas Center when both teams are ranked in the Top 25. Baylor beat the Musketeers by 15 last year in Waco.
Xavier led at halftime in that game and were up 51-50 when Trevon Bluiett picked up his fourth foul. After that, Baylor outscored the Musketeers 21-2 en route to their dominating victory. Xavier has never beaten Baylor, as they are 0-3 against the Bears all-time. Xavier has three days to recover from their Vegas trip, whereas Baylor had a full week off to prepare for this game. Strange to have a full week off at this point in the season. Maybe the Baylor players were helping Chip and Joanna Gaines hang shiplap in their newest Fixer Upper (takes place in Waco, TX) this past week so they were unable to play a game (keep up with me folks, I’m a renaissance man, and I watch HGTV, p.s. Joanna is babe).
Baylor has four players back this year who saw minutes in last year’s matchup. Star guard, Manu Lecomte, had 24 points in last year’s matchup. Standing at a whopping 5’11 he gave Xavier fits last year, just like Arizona State’s small guards did last week.
Jo Lual-Acuil Jr. stands at 7’0 tall and had 10 points in last year’s game. Terry Matson had 6 points and 6 boards. King McClure didn’t do anything in last year’s game while playing 10 minutes, I just wanted to mention him because he has a cool first name.
Baylor played Wisconsin this season and beat them 70-65. In the Bears’ previous game they beat fellow Big East member, Creighton 65-59. Coming into Tuesday’s game Baylor has the 16th best defense in the country, allowing 59 ppg. Coincidently, Xavier enters Tuesday’s game with the 16th best offense in the country, scoring 91 ppg. Something’s gotta give here. Trevon Bluiett is the only returning Musketeer that played well in last year’s meeting. He had 23 points and 7 rebounds. He also fouled out.
Going against a scorer like Lecomte, Xavier’s defense needs to be better than it was against the Sun Devils. Heck it probably couldn’t get worse.
Two things to watch in this game
1. Tyrique Jones and Sean O’Mara vs Jo Lual-Acuil Jr. Big and strong vs big. Jones needs to play better than he did in Vegas. He is too good of a player to not have at least 8 rebounds in every game. Let’s see how he does going against the 7’0 in Lual-Acuil Jr. O’Mara played one of his best games of the year when he went against Florida State’s seven footers last year. Hopefully the combo of Jones and O’Mara wears Lual-Acuil Jr. down.
2. Bluiett vs Lecomte. Both guys can fill it up. If both guys are on, this will be a fun back and forth to watch. They could be trading shot for shot.
Xavier has two HUGE tests this week. The NCAA committee could point to these two games against Baylor and UC as signature wins on their resume come March. If Xavier wins both, they will most likely enter the top 10.
I’m pretty much on fire this year gambling on college basketball. Xavier wins, but the Bears cover +4.5.
Musketeers win 86-82. Take it to the bank or your local credit union, whichever you prefer.
P.S. I’ll be in attendance at Cintas on Tuesday. Musketeers don’t lose big games when I’m in attendance. That’s just a fact.