Welcome to the latest edition of “Inside The Enemy Ship” featuring the Xavier Musketeers! In this edition, we have had the pleasure of speaking to Shannon Russell of The Cincinnati Enquirer! Check out below for her amazing insight for the upcoming game!
BBA: When the season started, where did you see the Musketeers going? What were your highest expectations for the season?
RUSSELL: Entering the season it was clear that Xavier had a lot of talent, but the big question was how it would all fit together. The team largely played last year through skilled senior center Matt Stainbrook, who was as adept at passing out of post traps as scoring inside and drawing fouls. Xavier also lost four-year point guard Dee Davis, whose poise under pressure and ability to run the team was another asset. The team this year was picked fourth in the preseason conference poll, which seemed a little low, and quickly showed it was a force to reckon with.
BBA: What do you think of Xavier’s (as of time of writing) 16-2 record? Does it accurately reflect the talent on the team?
RUSSELL: Xavier gained attention with its early-season win at Michigan and deserved the praise it garnered in its program-record 12-0 start. The loss at Villanova is tricky in that the team lost Edmond Sumner early to a concussion and never found its stride (and subsequently was blown out). That outcome is hard to weigh because the conditions were so unusual. But Georgetown played an immensely strong game to beat Xavier earlier this week. So yes, 16-2 is a good reflection.
BBA: During the Villanova loss, Edmond Sumner was injured early in the game. Do you think Xavier would have ultimately won if he had played the entire game?
RUSSELL: Hard to say. Villanova, led by Ryan Arcidiacono, was shooting lights out and the Wildcats were playing very well together on both ends of the court. Had Sumner not been injured, the game likely would have been closer, but it just seemed to be Villanova’s day. We’ll have a better idea when XU/Nova play again Feb. 24.
BBA: Speaking of Edmond Sumner, do you he has a shot at Big East POTY?
RUSSELL: Absolutely. As a point guard, distributor, play-maker, driver and shooter, he is an integral part in what makes Xavier tick. The Musketeers struggled with turnovers in his absence. Sumner’s length and footspeed make him difficult to defend, and he has delivered some explosive dunks that have energized his team. He’s not a perfect player (his defense is a work in progress) but he’s certainly a rare talent deserving of the honor.
BBA: Do you think the Big East is a good fit for Xavier?
RUSSELL: Definitely. Every game is a grind and with the caliber of teams in the mix, Xavier only stands to improve as it continues through the season. Four of the 10 teams in the AP Top 25 hail from the Big East. That alone speaks to the strength of the league. Xavier also lines up tough non-conference opponents, which enhances its strength of schedule.
BBA: Who would you consider Xavier’s biggest Big East Rival?
RUSSELL: Probably Butler. The Bulldogs are just two hours away and several players from both teams know each other from AAU ball. Prior to the Big East realignment, the teams were briefly conference-mates in the Atlantic 10. And before that they were longtime non-conference opponents. There have been some memorable games in the series, like the 2009 game in which the clock stopped down the stretch. Officials determined that time had elapsed after a Gordon Hayward putback and the Bulldogs won by one point. Fans from both schools bring great atmospheres to Butler/Xavier games, too, making them fun to attend.
BBA: Best guess, what seed with Xavier be in the NCAA tournament?
RUSSELL: Too early to say.
BBA: Which players should Seton Hall be most worried about meeting on the court?
RUSSELL: Trevon Bluiett has scored in double figures in 17 of the team’s 18 games, with a 19.5-point average in the last four outings alone. The sophomore is by nature a guard but starts at power forward, where he creates a mismatch with his skilled play. He’s also one of the Musketeers’ top rebounders. James Farr has been a monster on the glass this season and continues to make rebounding his No. 1 priority.
BBA: Final Score Prediction?
RUSSELL: Xavier by 10
Once again, we’d like to thank Shannon Russell for taking the time to share her wisdom and insight! Tipoff is today at 2 in Cincinnati. Coming off a “hart-breaking” loss to Villanova, the Pirates look to face their third ranked opponent in as many games. As always, Hazard Zet Forward, and stay safe during the snow storm.