It's Never Easy!!
Andy Mac Williams,
In the old days, XU would barely have to take the warm-ups off to win exhibition games in blow-out fashion. The Windsor Canadians, Lexington AAU, a touring second tier team from Latvia never gave the Muskies much opposition. Pete Gillen considered the games as little more than an excuse for checking how the uniforms fit or to get the new guys used to the warm-up routine. The new era of playing D-II teams works out better as a learning experience.
NKU learned they didn't relish being routed by UC and gave X a game. XU now may understand preseason magazines and polls are meaningless. Sheer talent and pedigree don't take you too far. Add consistent effort to that talent and it's a completely different story. Hopefully, Xavier learned a vital lesson.
The Muskies pounded out a 58-44 win over the Norse after trailing by three at the break. The first half stat sheet was butt ugly. X made just five field goals and maybe even more worrisome took just 20 shots. The rebounding was a statistical dead heat. The starters were a collective 2-of-14 from the field. Frosh Adrion Graves provided the lone positive scoring -- eight on 2-of-2 from the floor and 3-of-3 from the line. No wonder Huggs tried every trick in the book to get Graves to recant his XU letter and head for action-central, Manhattan, Kansas.
The second half proved a major turnaround. Justin Cage expended mega-effort as usual -- rebounding, scoring inside, getting three steals and three blocks. He locked up NKU's good frosh David Jefferson. Derrick Brown shagged eight rebounds and two blocks. He rebounded three missed Xavier free throws including 2 of his own. Now he needs to find a way to score. Stanley Burrell found his scoring stroke for 16 after halftime.
X showed little knack for jamming the ball in low to score. Maybe Josh Duncan can fill that role, but he's missed 16 practices and both exhibitions with a sore back. Jason Love struggled in brief minutes. Brandon Cole absorbed two charges but fouled out in only 16 minutes. Xavier's best post defender and rebounder has to play more time and manage to be some factor on offense. Justin Doellman didn't guard anybody in the first half but returned to his hard working form later.
Drew Lavender's jump shot form looks fine. He just needs to hit those open 3's. X is more of a work in progress than I thought. Rebounding in general and inside scoring are issues only consistent hustle can resolve. Johnny Wolf did not shed his warm-ups. I still believe he will eventually be a positive contributor.
Coastal Carolina of the Big South is no walk over. The Chanticleers finshed 20-10 last season and missed upsetting NCAA participant Winthrop by one point in the conference title game. Buzz Peterson is the second year coach late of Tennessee, Tulsa and Appalachian State. He played at North Carolina.
Coastal lost a good forward (15PPG, 5 REBS), but they return guard Jack Leasure (18PPG, 4 3PTers/game, 42% outside the arc), plus front court starters Moses Sonko and Joseph Harris. Peterson has four newcomers, two jucos 6-5 Phil Wallace from Pensacola, Florida and 6-3 Everage Richardson. Two Kentucky frosh may play: Guard Joshua Mack of Hopkinsville and 6-6, 225 pound Randon Cavette from Graves County.
Coastal lost badly to Wisconsin, Minnesota, and VMI in last year's pre-conference but strung a ton of wins together late and should be more advanced in year two of the Peterson regime. If the new guys are quickly integrated and prove a talent upgrade, Coastal could win their league. After laying an egg at home against NKU, X has to take these guys extremely seriously.