Comparing UC and Xavier: Close Games Tell the Story

CROSSTOWN-SHOOTOUTIt was an ugly game, replete with terrible shooting and shoddy passing. At times you wondered whether either team even wanted to win. In the end, when it was all said and done, the Vanderbilt Commodores made fewer mistakes, were able to make an extra shot or two and came up with the road win in the Cintas Center.

It was a game that good teams win.

That’s an overgeneralization, obviously, and yet it certainly possesses at least a fraction of truth. When ‘good teams’, an overused and over generalized term itself, are not at their best against inferior competition they typically manufacture some way to emerge victorious. Especially at home. And while Vanderbilt has a decent amount of cachet, this year’s team is unequivocally a bad team; they lost by 26 to an average Oregon team and scored a mere 33 points against Marist. Marist!

This is a bad loss for a Xavier Musketeers unit which can ill-afford compiling too many, a game they shot themselves out of in the latter portion of the second half.

The Cincinnati Bearcats faced a similar challenge this past Saturday, facing off against an SEC squad at home and being forced to squeak out a victory despite a less-than-desirable offensive performance.

Alabama is a significantly better team than Vanderbilt, and the Bearcats seemingly could not put the ball in the basket all game, shooting 39% for the day including 18% from deep, and yet a dramatic buzzer-beater from Cashmere Wright afforded the Bearcats the victory. It was far from a pretty game, jam-packed with physical on-ball defense and long, drawn-out possessions as the offenses desperately grasped at any semblance of a consistent flow.

In the end, though, Cincinnati won.

The game will likely serve as a learning experience for the Bearcats’ offense, not to mention a coming-out party for their incredibly stingy defense; Anthony Grant claimed the Bearcats’ may have the nation’s best defense after the game. They continued their trek upwards in the polls, ascending to #11 this past Monday, and maintain all of the good vibes which accompanied them heading into the season.

UC, when necessary, hunkered down and made sure to protect their home court.

Xavier, on the other hand, despite holding a 43-30 lead at one point in the second half, continued providing open looks from the perimeter to the otherwise-deficient Commodores’ offense and played some of their worst offensive basketball of the season. In a lot of ways it was reminiscent of the Musketeers’ exciting victory on the road in West Lafayette, full of a bevy of Jeff Robinson mistakes, shaky shooting from Dee Davis and an ultra-efficient, if limited, performance from Justin Martin.

Against Purdue, however, freshman sensation Semaj Christon was dynamite down the stretch, smoothly operating the offense each time down the floor and consistently scoring close to the hoop. It was truly an inspired performance for any player, much less a freshman playing the full 40 minutes in his first career game on the road. Thursday night’s home game against a weaker Vanderbilt team, for whatever reason, did not treat Christon as well. He certainly did not have a poor game, shooting 6/13 and registering 5 assists, but he wasn’t the dynamic playmaker the Musketeers so badly need to succeed.

At this point in the season, the two home dates against two separate opponents from the Southeastern Conference comfortably sums up the difference between UC and Xavier:

  • Cincinnati, teeming with veteran leadership, particularly at the guard position, is well-accustomed to end-of-game situations, able to run effective sets on offense and bear down and generate stops on defense. Cashmere Wright is responsible with the ball in his hands, Sean Kilpatrick possesses the ability to create a shot against anybody in the country and the Bearcats are always replete with enough shooters on the floor to produce a quality look by running a simple set. The Bearcats’ have plenty of talent, depth and experience, particularly in the all-important backcourt, the winning formula in college basketball.

 

  • Xavier is almost the polar opposite at this point in the season. Dee Davis, despite a strong and inspiring start to his season, is unprepared to run an offense at a high level against legitimate competition. Brad Redford is a pure shooter who, as hard as he may try, cannot do much else on the floor. That leaves an incredible onus on a 20-year old kid playing his first collegiate basketball games. When Semaj is incredible down the stretch the Musketeers’ entire offense flows smoothly, the defense seems to be a little tighter and Xavier likely win. However, when Christon simply plays a B- game, much less some terrible performance which will assuredly arise at some point in the season, the offense stagnates.

Yes, it is true, no matter the overgeneralization, that good teams tend to win close games. This isn’t to say Xavier isn’t a good team; they possess enough talent to grow into such a team, particularly as Christon and Davis accumulate more experience. But, it is to say that Cincinnati is unabashedly a good team, well-supplied with everything a quality college basketball team requires, and will likely have an excellent record in close games.