Today, Saint Xavier Basketball begins the most important week in the regular season. It will travel to Eastern High School to take on the Eagles, a team it has struggled with as of late. Let’s see how this matchup breaks down.
What Happened Last Time
In one word, Eastern has been able to get the best of the Tigers recently because of shooting. The last time St. X traveled to Eastern, then-senior Eagle guard Jordan Brangers lit up heavily-favored St. X for 26 points. He accumulated most of those points draining outside shots. The next year, Eastern came into the Br. John Wills Arena and again upended St. X, this time in OT. The catalyst for that victory: another sharpshooting guard. Now-senior Eastern guard Cameron Reed, who is signed to play basketball next season at the University of New Orleans, burned the Tigers for 25 points. On the first possession of that game, Reed stroked a three from NBA range, turned to the St. X bench, and put up the “shush” finger to his lips; he backed it up, once again proving that he gets up for big games.
Keys for St. X
There are two areas where the Tigers need to focus on in this game: turnovers and perimeter defense. Taking care of the ball has been an issue all season for St. X, and it can’t afford to be loose and careless with the ball in this one, as Eastern features several quick, water-bug guards who will swipe for pilfers every time they smell blood. As I previously wrote, it is well-documented that Eastern has killed the Tigers with outside shooting, and St. X will have to learn from history if it wants to break the current losing streak to the Eagles. Cameron Reed is still in a blue and white jersey, and he still has a killer instinct.
One development that will be intriguing to watch is the pace of the game. Eastern is chock full of speed and athleticism (not to mention, five of Eastern’s top eight players are sophomores–guys who go 110% at all times and haven’t yet figured out how to manage their energy) and loves to press and speed up the game. If St. X plays into the Eagles’ hands and attempts to match the speed, turnovers could become a major issue. St. X wants to push, but more often than not, it ends up running set plays in a halfcourt offense. Can the Tigers play at full throttle without spinning out of control? We haven’t seen anything that proves they can, but tonight will be a nice test.
Fortunately for St. X, it has a player very much like Reed in senior guard Ashanti Burgess, and he has been on an offensive tear lately. He has dropped 19 or more in each of the last five games, accompanied with over 50% field goal percentage. When I asked him about playing against big time players like Reed, he answered, “They put their shoes on just like me. I am athletic and can score to.” That he can. He has been laser focused lately, and if he can carry this run into tonight, we could be in for a show. However, St. X will more than likely need more offense than just a 20-point game from Burgess. Your guess is as good as mine as to where that extra production will come from. Lucas Miller, C.J. Shanklin, and Will Olsen are more than capable of exploding, but the extra scoring could also come from a couple extra buckets from role guys like Nick Kitchen or Billy Basham.
Keep your eye out for this Trey Moses-Miller matchup on defense as well. Miller already has experience guarding elite size and athleticism, as he checked Trinity’s Raymond Spalding for two games with significant success. But Moses is a different kind of animal; he doesn’t have Spalding’s freakish athleticism, and he won’t block ten shots in a game. But Moses is much more developed and skilled on the offensive end, which I will get into more later. If Miller can lock up Moses, it will put a lot of pressure on Reed to carry the Eagle offense.
The Tigers are currently on a two-game winning streak after victories against Fairdale and Seneca last week. Beginning this monumental week with a win over a fantastic team in their own region could prove to be the springboard for a team who has finally figured out its roles within the team, according to Burgess.
Keys for Eastern
As you may have deduced, Eastern begins and ends with Moses and Reed. Reed (18.2 ppg) and Moses (14.5 ppg) account for more than half of the Eagles’ 63.1 points per game, and they do it from all areas on the floor. Reed is an outstanding isolation player, using his elite ball handling skills and decisive moves to create space for his shot. Reed is shifty; he can get to any spot on the court he wants. He can pull up from anywhere on the floor and is a great finisher at the rim. When you foul him, he makes you pay by shooting over eighty percent at the charity stripe.
Reed is also a great distributor as the ballhandler in a pick and roll. Reed-Moses pick and rolls are deadly, due most in part to Moses’ shooting ability, which I will get to in a bit. Reed is great at drawing defenses in and then flipping it to Moses or sophomore Jonathon Lane for an easy bucket or kick it out to another guard for a wide-open three. The bottom line is that Reed is dangerous anytime the ball is in his hands; he’s dangerous without the ball, too, because you can’t come off of him at all to help.
Moses is also a lethal weapon on offense. The Ball State signee has a great feel for the game; he’s developed a ton since St. X last squared off with him. When he’s not mixing it up with pick and rolls or pick and pops, he has that uncanny ability of finding the little, open pockets in a defense that create problems. He hasn’t used it much this season (4-10 3FG), but he has a nice jumpshot that extends out to beyond the three-point line. He’s a beast with his back to the basket, utilizing an impressive arsenal of moves with both hands. That’s the part of the game that Miller didn’t have to deal with guarding Spalding; Spalding doesn’t post up. Moses does post up, and he knows what to do with the pumpkin when he gets his hands on it. Moses has a great sense of where offensive rebounds will fall and scores a lot of points on putbacks.
One aspect of Moses’ game that most don’t think about enough, in my opinion, is his passing. He’s Pau Gasol-like in the sense that he can catch the ball at the elbow and see the entire court in front of him and deliver on point bounce passes to cutters. Most bigs don’t have that vision at all, let alone in high school. In last year’s game, Moses got into foul trouble early and was never able to get into a rhythm. That’s his one noticeable weakness; if you’re physical with him, you can get him to let go of some of the force he plays with.
Besides those two, Eastern is very young, and that youth is exactly what you’d think it is–speedy, athletic, but not fundamental. Sophomore guard Sugar Ray Wyche is a defensive menace as an on-ball defender, but he doesn’t have definitive offensive skills. Similarly, Lane’s physicality is intimidating; he’s a big, strong pit bull who fights inside on both ends to try and lessen the load on Moses. But he doesn’t have anything specific in his game that makes you fear him. If you box out Lane inside and cut off driving lanes for Wyche, you effectively make them net-zero players on offense.
That being said, you can’t underestimate these guys at all; they’re hungry. Moses is comfortable with the guys around him and Reed. “We trust our younger guys if one or both of us are struggling,” he explains.
The Eagles are coming into this game after losing consecutive games to Ballard and Manual, but Moses is still high on this team’s potential. Another victory over St. X would add to that sentiment.
“We’re on a two-game losing streak, but we’ve played two of the best teams in the state, so I feel like we’re fine,” Moses says. “I still have a lot of confidence in this team and feel like we can make a deep run.”
The Most Telling Stat
This is pretty easy for both teams. Rebounding has been critical to both St. X and Eastern’s success this season. St. X Head Coach Kevin Klein always has one of his team goals for every game be “Win the rebound battle by at least five.” When they meet that goal, the Tigers are almost always in a great position to win the game. When they get out-rebounded, the result is usually an L.
Moses says rebounding is the path to a deep run for Eastern.
“Controlling the boards is a big key to winning for us,” he says. “When we rebound, I feel we’re as good as any team.”