The Battle 4 Atlantis felt like Chris Farley after he took a one-minute fall from an enormous hillside. One moment, Xavier's at the top of the mountain, beating ranked Iowa, shouting "Vote for Donnelly" confidently at the top of its lungs. The next, it's picking itself up from a painful skid after dropping three straight and probably asking itself, "what in the hell was that all about?"
Losing to Iowa was deflating, mainly because Xavier hadn't trailed the entire game before overtime, where it went down and never recovered the lead. But it wasn't crushing, just a missed a opportunity for the Musketeers to grab an impressive early win over a quality opponent on a neutral court. What followed was a an epic collapse, leading to a three-game losing streak.
The Musketeers led that game by 15 early on in the second half. They scored 55 points in 28 minutes of basketball. They finished with just 14 in the final 12. Semaj Christon left the game with just over 12 minutes remaining in regulation, due to a familiar vice. What ensued was an Iowa full-court press that induced utter chaos to the inexperienced guards trying to facilitate the Xavier offense. There were 19 turnovers in total—five alone from sophomore Dee Davis and 12 between all of the guards.
This game was Xavier's to win. Xavier's A-team simply dominated Iowa's, but a gritty, older team survived a reeling, depleted Xavier squad that couldn't even help itself. Xavier was 64 percent from the free-throw line that game. It's hard to be too down on the Muskies, but it's evidence of an immature team that has ways to go.
That was until they played Tennessee again, who had to have nothing but revenge on the mind since its earlier loss at the Cintas Center.
It might have been one of the ugliest Xavier games of recent memory, and I feel like there have been plenty to choose from the past few years. Tennessee shot nearly 50 percent and Xavier offered its lowest point total this season, failing to eclipse the 50-point mark. Semaj ended a streak of 25 consecutive double-figure games after being held to just four points.
It also felt like Tennessee secured every loose ball and every second-chance rebound. The Vols dominated the glass, 41 to 29. But still, Xavier may have been hungover from the heart-breaker against Iowa. With the Vols hellbent on revenge, it's not egregious to see how this happened.
Tennessee scored just 63 against Xavier when they lost at Cintas earlier this season. They scored 64 this time and won. The difference in this meeting had to be Semaj, who dropped 18 in the first meeting.
USC wasn't much different. The Trojans went on a painful 13-point run, which eventually led to a 24-point lead. Another deflating effort from the Muskies seemed to be on deck, but they did rally to outscore USC, 29-11, in the span of about four minutes, which should inspire fans somewhat, considering the team was lifeless for nearly four consecutive halves prior to the surge.
The final score of 84-78 is easier to swallow when you consider the previous deficit.
Similar to last year, Semaj Christon's presence seems almost too vital. His exit from the Iowa game led to a plethora of bad turnovers from the other young guards. The team averaged 17 turnovers throughout the tournament, and according to Beat Writer Shannon Russell, opponents converted those to an average of 21 points.
The Musketeers shot 55.2 percent on free throws. Abysmal, crippling. On the year, the team is shooting 58 percent. While it's promising that guys like Dee Davis and Myles Davis are shooting about 70 percent, the fact that captain and NBA prospect Semaj Christon is shooting just above 50 percent is concerning. Mainly because he'll be the one to get to the line most frequently considering his ability to get to the basket. He finished last year shooting free throws at 67 percent, so there's reason to believe this changes.
Can this team be a full-court press team? It depends on the lineup. The Muskies went to the press late against USC and forced 17 total turnovers. But the likelihood of the Musketeers pressing will probably decrease when big guys like Isaiah Philmore and Matt Stainbrook are on the court at the same time. Otherwise, this could be a useful weapon later in the season.
James Farr has been quite impressive early on this season, especially considering that he averaged 3.2 minutes a game last season. It seems like something is clicking now, as the sophomore is getting over 15 minutes per game, contributing 7.8 points and 6.3 rebounds. He currently leads the team in three-point percentage.
A major difference between this year's team and last year's team is the ability to rebound the ball. They finished No. 142 (35.2) last year in rebounding and currently sit at No. 53 (39.9). The additions of Stainbrook, Jalen Reynolds and the emergence of Farr has given this team the ability to contend for rebounds it was previously too undersized to get.