Last Friday night, Saint Xavier Basketball showed a lot of people that it can play with anyone. The Tigers fell to the Rocks by a final score of 57-47, but they were in it until the very end. It would be very hard for St. X to play better tomorrow night, but it could be done. From a defensive standpoint, St. X played outstanding; however, there are still some points the Tigers need to remember.
1. Don’t forget about Ray.
Lucas Miller did an outstanding job limiting Shamrock star Raymond Spalding in the first match, holding him to just 10 points and 7 rebounds. It will be an even tougher task for Miller this time around, as Mike Szabo and his staff have almost assuredly made some changes to their offensive plan after seeing how the Tigers guarded Ray the first time out. A key stat to remember concerning this matchup is fouls, as St. X was able to send Spalding to the pine for almost the entire second quarter because of foul trouble. (The Tigers would take full advantage of his absence by winning the second quarter en route to a halftime lead.) If St. X can get Spalding to commit cheap fouls early in the game again, it puts them in great position. We have yet to see how the game goes with Spalding on the court for his regular amount of minutes, and we don’t want to find out how it goes, either. Spalding must be fronted at all times, doubled immediately when he has the ball inside the arc, and soundly boxed out every time a shot goes up.
2. Keep an eye on Jax.
Jax Levitch, as expected, hit three pointers when Trinity needed them. He finished 3 for 4 from outside, and all them were too open due to split-second mental lapses on defense. The Tigers need to eliminate those mental mistakes and cling to Levitch like white on rice. Levitch is a smart player, and if he is feeling it, he will without warning drain a long ball in someone’s grill; he might get one or two, but St. X has to keep him uncomfortable. His outside shot cannot be the reason St. X loses.
3. Don’t sleep on D’Angelo West.
In my preview of the last matchup on Friday, I described West as arguably Trinity’s best offensive player. He did not live up to that title on Friday, managing 0 points on 0 of 4 shooting. But don’t write this guy off after one terrible game. He is still a “heat-check” slasher who can score 20 points on any given night; and for all we know, this could be that night. St. X needs to continue to guard him tough, because holding him to a big, fat donut in the box score will go a long way in the Tigers’ pursuit of revenge, just like it did on Friday.
With so much length, athleticism, and talent on the other side, St. X has to win this game as a team; that’s how it was so close the first time. It’s especially important on the defensive side, where you have to call out picks, slips, cuts, and many other movements throughout the possession. If the Tigers are talking on defense, it means they are locked in to what Trinity is doing. Talking keeps everyone focused on his assignment; if St. X wants to beat Trinity, each player must have a laser-focus on what he needs to do on the floor at all times.
5. Be tough.
Playing against a more talented team also means you have to do the dirty work. You have to fight for every rebound, every loose ball, and pounce on every opportunity that arises. The Tigers would do well to turn the game into a controlled street-fight. No easy layups. No dunks for Spalding. If the Rocks know that they will be met with force if they try to enter the paint, they will go there less often. If St. X can channel its inner Bad Boy Pistons and get Trinity to focus on the players in front of them instead of the game being played, it will be on the way to a victory.
If the Tigers can capitalize on these points and weather a few Shamrock runs, they can do this. They almost won the first game, and defense is what got them to that point. St. X isn’t scared or worried about guarding the other team; if the guys stay on their toes, drop the mental lapses, and leave every drop of energy on the court, they can win this battle.
This game is huge. If St. X can topple the giant, they can win the LIT and make an enormous statement in the process. The Tigers are ready.
There is no denying that the both team’s benches are huge facets of this ball game. And none of these guys are benchwarmers. They are all ballers and affect the game in big ways when called upon. Let’s take a look at how these second unit guys will influence the game.
St. Xavier Depth Chart
– #15 Nick Kitchen- 6’3″| 180 lbs.| Senior
– #5 Connor McKim- 6’2″| 162 lbs.| Junior
– #22 Billy Basham- 6’2″| 185 lbs. | Junior
-#4 Connor Knight- 6’0″| 171 lbs.| Junior
St. Xavier Overview
As I mentioned in the guards breakdown, McKim is a big time player and can take over at any time. Coach Klein toggles back and forth between Josh Rudy and McKim as starting point guards, so McKim is essentially the sixth man if he’s not starting. But the real sixth man, usually first off the bench, is senior forward Nick Kitchen. Able to play the 3 or the 4, Kitchen’s versatility gives the Tigers a much needed boost. Although it may not always be a visible impact, Kitchen is a true grinder who plays with grit and veteran savvy. He scraps in the low post so hard that you wouldn’t notice he’s undersized as a power forward.
Billy Basham is usually a big energy boost for the Tigers off the bench. Although his playing time fluctuates, Basham is a reliable cog in the Tiger offense and a huge defensive asset. A big time bonus that Basham can bring to the game is he can rip off a scoring streak in an instant. Set up by his intense defense, Basham’s offensive game is one to admire because he is extremely creative in the way he gets his points. Coach Klein may go to Basham early on in Friday night’s contest if he doesn’t like what he’s seeing from the usual rotation of forwards.
Third string court orchestrator Connor Knight doesn’t get the credit he deserves. While he doesn’t log big time minutes, Knight is an elite passer and dribbler who tries to mediate pressure and game flow when he is in the game.
Trinity Depth Chart
-#1 D’Angelo West | Senior | PG
-#10 Jay Murphy | Senior | PG/SG
-#20 Gabe Schmitt | Junior | SG
-#22 Isiah Knight | Junior | PG/SG
Trinity’s bench can be summarized by one word: dangerous. There are handful of guys at one or two positions, but there is firepower beginning the game on the pine for Trinity, and that does not bode well for St. X.
Trinity’s second unit starts with D’Angelo West. The lefty-swingman is that “heat-check” guy who can completely change games by himself, much like Jamal Crawford of the Los Angeles Clippers and J.R. Smith for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
West loves to drive and finish inside, but he is a more-than capable outside shooter as well. He is a complete package on offense who averaged over 20 points per game last season playing in Mississippi. St. X needs to keep an eye out for number 1 in green and white when he enters the game. You could make a sound argument that Trinity’s best offensive player comes off the bench.
Senior Shamrock guard Jay Murphy is another lights-out shooter who can affect games with his distributing ability. Trinity’s offense often looks more smooth and fluid when Murphy checks in.
Murphy is another player who values his time on the court, evidenced by his demeanor.
“Coming off the bench is never seen generally seen as a good thing, but with the quality of players we have have, it’s remarkable I even get to play the minutes I do,” Murphy explained. “For me, being a part of this team and having a chance to help us win a state title is worth it.”
Again, a player who will be playing in college puts the team in front of himself. It doesn’t always seem like chemistry is a big thing with Trinity on the court, but when you talk to the guys, you realize why they are so good: They recognize their roles and don’t attempt to change them.
St. X also can’t forget about Gabe Schmitt. With all the senior-laden talent on this Shamrock team, this junior doesn’t get noticed a lot. But Schmitt can flat-out score, and if he is ignored, he could very well contribute a performance off the bench that dooms the Tigers.
Trinity has a lot of talent, so some of it gets pushed to the bench. Unfortunately for St. X, they won’t be guarding anyone of substantially less talent when the Shamrock subs come in, and that could spell trouble for the Tigers.