Defense lacking for Xavier
JAN 31, 2014 11:20p ET
It's been a week since the Musketeers lost by nine points at Providence, a loss in which Xavier gave up 81 points and continued a disturbing trend of lackadaisical defense. There has been a theme to Xavier's practices this week leading up to Saturday's game at the Cintas Center against Seton Hall.
It doesn't take a mind-reader to figure out that theme.
"It was what was needed," said Mack on Friday. "We did a lot of drills on guarding the basketball one-on-one, two-on-two, things that you might normally do more in preseason, but it still has to manifest itself on the basketball court on game day."
Xavier is giving up 74.9 points a game in Big East play, ninth in the 10-team league, after giving up 63.5 points a game in its non-conference schedule. Conference opponents are shooting 43.9 percent from the field against the Musketeers, including 43.2 percent from 3-point range. They've been called for at least 19 fouls in five of their seven league games, which translate into a lot of trips to the foul line for shots at free points.
Three of Xavier's last four opponents have had at least 30 free throw attempts. Providence made 21 of 30 free throws last Saturday.
"We foul way too much," said Mack. "Providence had eight free throw attempts because we missed a shot, they got the defensive rebound and we somehow figured out how to foul them so they didn't have to earn it on the offensive end but only have to go to the free throw line and for them not return the favor. We've got to be smarter basketball players and more disciplined."
Xavier is ranked 25th in the latest NCAA RPI ratings, third best among Big East teams (Villanova is No. 4, Creighton No. 10). The Musketeers are undefeated at home, 12-0. Seton Hall is the lowest-ranking team in the Big East when it comes to RPI, showing up at No. 117 this week, but the Pirates (12-8) have given Providence its lone home loss of the season and is one of just two teams to win at Georgetown.
Seton Hall has four players with scoring averages in double figures, led by sophomore guard Sterling Gibbs (14.7) and senior forward Fuquan Edwin (14.1).
"It's been really intense trying to get back to how we were early on in the season with our defense when we were a top-30 team in defensive rankings," said sophomore forward James Farr. "We've slipped from how we were at the beginning of the season. That's been our main focus in practice this week."
Xavier is the last team to beat Cincinnati, now ranked No. 13 in the nation and riding a 13-game winning streak after winning at Louisville Thursday night. The Musketeers dominated UC in their December matchup, winning by 17 points, and a smothering defense was part of that equation.
Defensive smothering hasn't been much of any equation since the Musketeers started league play. They are averaging 80 points a game themselves, including getting 21.1 points a game from sophomore guard Semaj Christon, but simply outscoring teams isn't going to be much of a formula for Xavier the rest of the way.
"I think we've gotten lazy because we won a couple of games so we took our foot off of the gas and wasn't always locked in," said Christon. "We've let teams get easy buckets where before we wouldn't give up easy shots or layups. I think we just need to lock in more on every possession and we'll be back to the team coach Mack wants us to be."
Mack doesn't know what team is going to show up Saturday. He knows what this team is capable of, and therein lays the source of his frustration. He expects a better defensive effort.
"I'm not one to give guarantees," said Mack, "but we'll be ready to go to the bench a lot sooner if it's not addressed."