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The Rematch: Defensive Keys

If St. X can pressure Jax Levitch and the other Shamrock ball handlers into turnovers, they have a great shot at getting revenge. | Photo by Kody Nalley

If St. X can pressure Jax Levitch and the other Shamrock ball handlers into turnovers, they have a great shot at getting revenge. | Photo by Kody Nalley

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.

4. Communicate.

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.

The Rematch: Offensive Keys

 

If C.J. Shanklin can figure out how to operate around Raymond Spalding in the middle, St. X might just have enough offense to pull off an upset. | Photo by Kody Nalley

If C.J. Shanklin can figure out how to operate around Raymond Spalding in the middle, St. X might just have enough offense to pull off an upset. | Photo by Kody Nalley

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.