Following an 84-69 defeat to York College and a 105-84 victory over East-West University, the Saint Xavier men’s basketball team now boasts a 2-2 record on the 2017-18 season.
Still adjusting to its new roster, the Cougars continue to learn where its deficiencies lie, as well as its strengths.
“Our two losses are against two really good teams,” assistant coach John Chappetto said. “One we could have won, the other showed some of our struggles contribute to why we lost.”
Typically, Saint Xavier likes to implement a guard-heavy lineup to spread the floor, work the ball in transition and create open jump shots. That particular game plan sometimes struggles in the front court, as the Cougars lack size in certain rotations.
Against York, the size differential did not hinder Saint Xavier; it was the team’s shooting percentage.
At halftime, the Cougars shot a miserable twenty-one percent from the field and were a measly 3-of-13 from beyond the arc.
When shots are not falling – especially from three – Saint Xavier has a difficult time finding victories based on the way they are built. The Cougars managed to bounce back after their loss to York with a twenty-one point victory on Sunday.
The men had a much more consistent flow to their offense against East-West University and players were taking high-efficiency shots. In the first half, Saint Xavier shot a scorching 66.7 percent from the field.
Much of Saint Xavier’s success can be credited to the team’s floor general, Quinn Niego. The senior shot 7-of-12 from the field and finished with twenty-five points to accompany his eight rebounds.
“He’s really a coach on the floor,” Chappetto said of Niego. “Defensively, he’s moving guys around, he calls our out of bounds plays and he’s really an asset to have on the floor. He’s just phenomenal for us.”
Other standout performers in the win were junior Tyler Diehl and junior transfer Chris Soczek. The duo combined for forty-three points and look to be integral pieces to head coach Tom O’Malley’s game plan.
To this point, Soczek has taken over minutes for injured sophomore standout Jack Brody. Both Diehl and Soczek are earning their keep and look to stay in the rotation once Brody is healthy again.
“Tyler is playing really well right now and Chris is finding his way,” Chappetto said. “When you’re the new guy, you have to find where you fit in.
“In a weird way, maybe Jack being out has kind of helped him because he’s getting more minutes. We’re excited about the return of Jack. That’ll help us take it to the next level.”
With a healthy Brody, Niego, Diehl, Soczek and one of the NAIA’s best three-point shooters in Jared Jones at head coach Tom O’Malley’s disposal, Saint Xavier can feel very confident about the value each aforementioned individual brings to the floor.
The question then relates to the depth and matter of consistency on a game-to-game basis.
So far, junior Kyle Tackett, senior Jim Barista, and sophomore Jaelon Wilson have been asked to produce off the bench. Tackett, along with seniors Niko Cahue and Kevin Fervil, are the primary options in the front court.
As for the backcourt, Chappetto noted, “I think [Jim] Barista and Jaelon Wilson have to play well for us. We need as much depth as we can get. I think we do have some depth, but it’ll take time for things to get acclimated.”
A major focus at the early juncture of the season is to get Brody healthy and for the team to learn as much as it can before the start of conference play. The plus side, though, is the confidence level surrounding this group.
“I think through four games we are a better team now than we were a year ago through four games,” Chappetto said.
The Cougars look to get above .500 for the first time this season when they take on the Illinois Institute of Technology on Wednesday, November 8 at 7:00 PM. The broadcast can be heard on WXAV 88.3 FM and wxav.com.