Some breaking news here at this late hour as Coach Klein announces via Twitter that Senior Tiger Basketball Forward Lucas Miller has committed to play at Hanover College. Just named to the All-Catholic Second Team, Miller averaged 10.4 ppt and truly stretched the floor by showcasing his versatility of playing multiple positions.
The Future Panther has been contributing on the Varsity level at St. Xavier for the past three seasons and his coach broke the news on Twitter.
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.”
Last Friday night, one team showed the state that it could hang with anybody. St. X gave the number one team in Kentucky everything it had and nearly knocked it off in Broadbent Arena. But in the end, it was Trinity that defeated the Tigers by a final line of 57-47. So with a rematch coming tomorrow, what can the Tigers do better on the offensive end? Lets take a deeper look at the ups and downs of the offense against its heated rival last week.
By no means am I a coach, nor do I know the personnel of the team as well as Coach Klein does, but there are some tweaks that can be made to the offense to put the team in a better position to win against heavyweights such as Trinity.
The Tigers came out firing in the first half, but shots were not falling for everybody. On a night where the defense shined brighter, the offense could have been on the same level had a few things not happened. Firstly, it is difficult to commit 8 turnovers and be in the game at halftime without playing stellar defense. Luckily, that’s exactly what the Tigers did and found themselves ahead by four at the break.
But besides the turnovers, the St. X offense relied heavily on one player. Ashanti Burgess was hotter than he’s ever been in the first half, and the Tigers kept going to him. That’s perfectly fine, but if no one else steps up to take a scoring role, it is eventually going to wear on Burgess and subsequently, the rest of the team. And that’s exactly what happened. Burgess shot a wildly impressive 71.4% from the field in the first half (58.3% for the game) and made 4-6 three pointers. None of those stats are undesirable, and he was the only bright spot for the Tigers offensively all night. If there are any bones to pick with his performance, it’s going 2-7 from the free throw line. But overall, you couldn’t ask for a much better game from the senior sharpshooter.
What you can ask for, however, is for someone else to step up and lighten the load for Burgess on offense. Lucas Miller was tasked with guarding Raymond Spalding, and having to guard an opponent seven inches taller than you is guaranteed to be physically taxing. With a fatigued Miller, St. X was down a primary scorer on the offensive end. That meant that someone needed to step up and score in the second half to help relieve Burgess. The Tigers only mustered 9 points in the third quarter and it was clear that Burgess was slowing down. He scored his final 5 points of the game in that quarter until the defense caught on to him and shut him down in the fourth quarter.
With Miller and Burgess both seemingly out of offensive gas, one would look to a Connor McKim or a C.J. Shanklin to get some buckets when the Tigers needed them most. Shanklin struggled with the defense from Spalding and often times found himself getting trapped after trying to dribble and get to the rack like he is accustomed to doing. Give the Trinity defense credit though, as they were suffocating in the paint. In the end, 8 points was simply not enough from the senior forward. I expect him to relax and find his shot a lot more easily in the rematch.
McKim had an off night, going 2-4 from the floor, 0-2 from behind the line and uncharacteristically not earning a trip to the charity stripe. I expect to see a lot more of the junior point guard in the rematch because of his pure ability to get to the basket and create. Every good player has bad outings.
Besides those key elements, the offense was not too terribly different than it has been all season. Like I said before, I don’t know if the Tigers could have played more inspired basketball on Friday night.
As for some more subtle tweaks, I look to the floor generals. Both McKim and Josh Rudy need to help communicate to their teammates to move without the ball. Basic ball screens, cutting and flashing, and sealing off the pick on a pick-and-roll situation can pay big dividends in finding easy buckets. It’s the fundamentals of motion without the basketball that the Tigers slipped up on a few occasions. Those mistakes are understandable on the big stage, but in the rematch, I would expect to see fine-tuned and clean offense from the Tigers.
Here are some stats that can be improved upon in my opinion:
– 6-14 from the free throw line as a team (43%)
-17 total turnovers
– only one player in double digits (Burgess, 20)
While those stats exist, there are some very encouraging stats for the Tigers to remember at the same time:
– 9-17 from 3pt. range (53%)
-Miller still managed to find 9 points on limited shooting
– 10 total assists
If the Tigers can replicate what they did on defense and make some minor adjustments to the offense, Kentucky’s number one team could very well taste defeat on Wednesday when these two squads are pitted against each other for the second time in less than a week.
Go Tigers. Beat the Rocks.
It’s pretty straight forward when it comes to the center matchup in this game. All eyes will be on the center in green and white, but the center in green and gold has an opportunity to put his own stamp on the game by bottling up the center in green and white. This will probably be the most fun and entertaining matchup to watch, so let’s get into the details.
St. Xavier Depth Chart
– #31 Lucas Miller | 6’3″ | 197 lbs. | C/PF | Senior
-#24 Daniel Ryan | 6’5″ | 215 lbs. | C | Junior
St. Xavier Overview
Lucas Miller isn’t a true center by any means, but because he draws the unenviable task of checking Trinity’s Raymond Spalding on defense, we are putting him here.
Guarding a skilled 6’10” guy when you are 6’3″ is just inherently difficult. But Miller isn’t afraid of the task at hand. If he plays smart and does the little things right, he has a chance at neutralizing Spalding.
Regardless of the outcome of the game, this is going to be a long and tough night for Miller on the defensive end. He will be jostling for position all night with Spalding trying to front him in the post and boxing him out when a shot goes up. It may influence his offensive game. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Miller frequently spacing out on offense to save his energy for defense during the game. I don’t blame him.
Here’s a fact, though: Limiting Spalding will be way more important than producing on the offensive end. Miller knows he has offensive weapons capable of picking up his slack, so the only thing that should be in his mind is big number 35 in the green and white.
We could see Daniel Ryan have an impact on the game if Miller gets in foul trouble, which has happened a few times this season. He has a much bigger frame than Miller, but Ryan is more susceptible to being beat by Spalding’s athleticism and quickness. Either way, Ryan is a fundamental player who does everything right and makes very few mistakes. His size might come in handy tonight.
Whoever is on the floor for St. X at the center position, there is one mission: disrupt Spalding. As you will see further down in this article, Spalding is the “You can’t stop him; you can only hope to contain him” type of player, and if St. X wants to win this game, having a body hounding Spalding at all times is crucial.
If you haven’t realized it yet, I will sum it up for you: Tonight, this position is all about defense, defense, and more defense.
Trinity Depth Chart
– #35 Raymond Spalding | C | Senior
– #33 Christian Terry | C | Junior
You don’t need to look very far when it comes to the Rocks’ center position. Trinity starts and ends with Raymond Spalding. He is the offensive and defensive anchor. He is the 52nd best player in the nation, according to ESPN. He is the “Rock” of the Rocks.
It starts defensively with him. I’ve never seen a better shot-blocker in person in my life. Not only does use his elite athleticism, Spalding has amazing instincts. A pump-fake isn’t going to fool him; he knows that guards will try to attack his body in attempt to get foul calls, so he lets the guard come to him first, and then he sends the shot into the third row.
This kid is just unbelievable on the defensive end. Plenty of NBA big men lack the defensive skills Spalding has. It can’t be understated; Spalding is a defensive monster.
Like many athletic-freak big men, Spalding’s offensive game is much less threatening. He has a few post moves, but they all going to the left with his right hand. He doesn’t want to go left at all. He isn’t and elite free-throw shooter either, so St. X would be smart to put him at the line instead of allowing an easy two.
Spalding means so much to Trinity that if he has to miss significant time due to foul trouble, the Rocks are in trouble, even with all the other talent they have. Junior Christian Terry doesn’t come close to providing what Spalding does for this team. There’s a huge drop-off after Spalding.
But again, Spalding is a superstar. He single-handedly wins games. And he doesn’t force things, something vital to a young player like himself.
“In games, I try not to focus on one area of a game,” Spalding told me. “I just let whatever comes to me happen. I don’t plan on doing anything besides playing hard and getting to the foul line. I’ve been in the gym working a lot, so that’s the plan.”
If he is confident going to the free-throw line, St. X has to be worried. Trinity is a huge favorite, and making Spalding ineffective is about the only avenue the Tigers have to a victory.
The bottom line: If Spalding even has an okay game, much less a good game, the final result might not be pretty for St. X.
Want to get more informed about what you will see on Friday night at Broadbent Arena? Then head on over to MaxPreps and check out the newly-updated season statistics for Saint Xavier Basketball. You can see season averages for each player and check box scores from any game St. X has played this season.
You can check it out here, Tiger Nation, but I will give you some quick hitters now.
Leading Scorer: Lucas Miller (11.4 points per game)
Leading Rebounder: C.J. Shanklin (6.4 rebounds per game)
Leading Passer: Josh Rudy (3.2 assists per game)
You can continue to check MaxPreps throughout the season, as stats will be updated after each game the Tigers play.