Russell: Odd two weeks afflicts Xavier hoops

Russell: Odd two weeks afflicts Xavier hoops
Posted at 5:52 PM, Jan 21, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-22 09:56:51-05

Aside from the 2011 brawl with Cincinnati and the fallout it entailed, there has been no stranger stretch for Xavier men’s basketball than these last 14 days.

How peculiar has it been? Embattled guard Myles Davis rejoined the Musketeers Jan. 8 after his 15-game suspension was lifted. Davis departed the program Friday after just 13 days back with the team, giving no specific reason other than it was time “to start a new chapter” in his life.

Point guard Edmond Sumner injured his left shoulder at Villanova and at Butler. Trainers used athletic tape after the first collision and have turned to a soft brace for support.

Factor in an illness that had several players throwing up and running high temperatures in the last week, a patellar tendon aggravation that has afflicted freshman Tyrique Jones, 3-point shooting woes for season leading scorer Trevon Bluiett and a rash of turnovers by J.P. Macura.

Oh, and No. 22 Xavier has lost three straight games for the first time since 2013-14.

“We didn’t play chopped liver over the course of the last eight, nine days,” Xavier coach Chris Mack said Saturday, referring to defeats by then-No. 3 Villanova, then-No. 12 Butler and No. 7 Creighton. “Our guys are probably more resilient than the coaching staff sometimes. We live and die with the results.”

Roller coaster aspects of the season actually started during the summer when Davis' legal issues came to light. They continued with Davis' indefinite suspension from the program in September. Then in November, he pleaded guilty to one reduced charge of disorderly conduct relating to a former girlfriend.

Speculation about Davis' return date dominated Xavier message boards for months. Once he was part of the team, some fans wondered if Davis didn’t throw a wrench into the system by usurping others’ minutes. He played 34 total minutes in three games and scored two points off free throws.

Mack was asked Saturday what it was like to integrate a player into the rotation and now play without him.

“I wouldn’t say it’s a drastic change because honestly we only had Myles for eight days, six days, seven days of practice anyway. So we were a successful team before he was here. It had nothing to do with our three-game losing streak. It had more to do with our opponents than the addition of Myles. And so we move forward. That’s about all I’m going to talk about," Mack said.

"I don't see any big changes, quite honestly. It wasn't like he was playing 30 minutes a game."

Mack said Musketeer players were business-like in learning of Davis’ departure. The coach answered several other specific questions about Xavier players:

On Jones’ patellar tendon issue, which he sustained during warm-ups for Creighton: “He’s been hit or miss. Really I don’t know how much he’s going to be able to help us tomorrow. Moving forward hopefully it starts to feel better. I don’t have a crystal ball.”

On Sumner’s shoulder injury: “Same thing. We want to be really cautious in practice so that he’s out there playing in games. But if you have a week off and then you say, ‘OK, we’re going to sit you out the entire week and play you,’ it’s never going to work out for a guy because he’s going to be rusty. He’s going to have a rhythm that’s off. So we’ve done a lot with him 5-on-0 the last two days. He has competed at practice, he looked good. It's going to be sore from time to time. We anticipate him playing and being ready to go tomorrow.”

On Macura’s 12 turnovers in the last three games: “I think he’s a guy that needs to concentrate more. He needs to make simpler decisions. He tends to play ‘hero ball,’ trying to split some ball screens and make no-look passes. When you start getting in a slide and you start turning the ball over, you need to check yourself and start to make better decisions. Make simpler decisions. Let the game come to some other guys and get yourself out of those bad habits.”

On Bluiett’s 0-for-8 mark from 3-point range in the last two outings: “He needs to get back in the gym and take shots outside of practice. Guys always fight demons throughout the course of their career. The biggest thing from my standpoint is that you have to take good shots. There’s no such thing as season-long shooting slumps when you take good shots and you’re a good shooter. And so I have all the confidence in the world that at some point he’s going to break out of it.

“He still played really well against Creighton. He just didn’t make any threes. He was 0-for-4. But I thought his ability to get to the foul line 10 times, to rebound for us, to get lost in the game in other areas allowed him to have a positive impact on the game. Whereas I think there have been some occasions that he thought too much about how his three-ball isn't going in, and that affected the other parts. I’d like see more of a Creighton effort.”

Xavier turns the page to Sunday’s 2 p.m. game against Georgetown, a CBS-televised Big East outing at Cintas Center that precedes the Xavier women’s basketball team’s 5 p.m. home game versus Villanova.

Xavier's men (13-5, 3-3 Big East) haven’t lost four consecutive games since 2012. The good news is that formerly ill Musketeers players seem to have regained their health as they have prepared for a Hoyas team they defeated 81-76 on Dec. 31.

John Thompson III’s group (10-9, 1-5) has lost five its last seven outings and presents a unique style that’s often difficult to prepare for with a short-turnaround. Having more time this week could be a boon for the Musketeers.

“We’ve got to do a better job this time around of defending their Princeton-type of actions. I thought our zone helped us but we have to be better in man when we play them,” Mack said.

Only time will tell if Xavier’s strange stretch is about to end – or extend.

REUNION CENTRAL: Several former Musketeers attended Saturday’s practice and toured new aspects of the arena, like the weight room. The group included Michael Davenport, Keith Jackson, Dwayne Wilson, Jim Kromer, Eric Knop, Jamal Walker, Ralph Lee, Tyrice Walker, Ryan Caldwell and Tom Compton.