After two straight losses to open up Big East Conference play, the Johnnies will be facing another stiff test on Wednesday at Carnesecca Arena against the 10th ranked Xavier Musketeers. Xavier (13-1, 1-1) was thrashed by Villanova on New Year's Eve but bounced back versus a solid Butler team, winning by 19 at the Cintas Center.
For more insight into one of the stronger teams in the Big East, we spoke with Caleb Childers of Banners on the Parkway (Xavier's SB Nation Blog).
1. Xavier has been a constant force under Chris Mack. What is it about Mack that brings out the best in his players?
Xavier's been lucky to have a string of great coaches. Skip Prosser, Thad Matta, Sean Miller, and now Chris Mack. I think the biggest things that help Mack with the guys is his basketball IQ and his history at Xavier. Mack's a Xavier guy and a Cincinnati native. He played high school ball here and played in college at Xavier. He was an assistant here before following Skip Prosser to Wake Forest and then returning to Xavier. He's been around the game a long time and he's learned from some of the best. I think all that impresses players.
2. How has the emergence of Edmond Sumner helped this team and what is his importance?
Sumner sat out last year because of injury so he was a big question mark coming into this season. We hoped he would be good, but I've been impressed with his game. Myles Davis is a great guard, but not nearly as good as Dee Davis at running the offense, so having Sumner step up as a redshirt freshman is a blessing. He played great up until his injury, and I'm sure that he'll make a full recovery.
3. Trevon Bluiett has been another player who has taken a big step. What has been the difference in his game this season?
Trevon is tremendously fun to watch and has been ever since day one. What makes him so good is his scoring instinct. Bluiett is a consistent scoring threat that cannot be left unguarded, and he's averaging 14.3 points per game right now. His game is smooth, and he's got a wicked jump shot. From last year to this year, he's making more mature decisions and is a bigger presence on the court.
4. Xavier is one of the more impressive teams in the country so far this year. Is their success based on one particular area of play?
Xavier is on a complete roll right now after that dismantling of Butler. What makes this year's Xavier team good is the depth. Xavier has five guys averaging over 10 points per game. Each night someone else steps up and has a huge game, and that makes it tough for other teams to prepare for. The best example of this was Saturday's game against Butler. Sumner was out and Larry Austin Jr stepped up along with Mack starting Farr and Reynolds together for the first time. The team is versatile with a lot of athletic players, and that's lead to the success.
5. What must St. John's do to remain competitive against Xavier?
Become Villanova? Actually please don't, I really don't want to relive that game again. Xavier's biggest weakness is guarding the perimeter. Villanova got hot from the start and Xavier had no answer to the constant barrage of 3s.
Another way to stop Xavier is to get Reynolds in foul trouble as fast as possible. Reynolds has so much talent and skill, but will pick up fouls quickly and that takes him out of the game at times. Get him to pick up some soft fouls and you've got less time with a big man on the court, so take advantage of that.
6. Your score prediction?
St. John's- 60
I think St. John's has a talented team but 2016 isn't their year. Xavier is going to take this one.
(Thank you Caleb for all your help!)