Chris Mack

The wheels fall off for Xavier at Battle 4 Atlantis

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“The wheels fell off,” Xavier coach Chris Mack said to the media following Xavier’s 77-73 opening-round overtime loss to No. 23 Iowa in the Battle 4 Atlantis.

While Mack’s foreshadowing quote after Thursday’s game was only referring to the first game of three the Musketeers would play at the Battle 4 Atlantis, his comments rang true for the remainder of the week after previously unbeaten Xavier entered the event 5-0 and left 5-3.

After dropping a heartbreaker to Iowa in which they never trailed in regulation and led by as much as 15 in the second half, Xavier fell flat in its next game against Tennessee, losing 64-49, even though they had beaten the Volunteers 17 days before by four points. USC ended the Musketeers’ miserable trip to the Bahamas with Saturday’s 84-78 win.

So what happened to Xavier at Battle 4 Atlantis?

A combination of things is likely the culprit, but, for Xavier, it starts with the play of sophomore guard Semaj Christon. Christon averaged 15.2 points per game last season and when he went down with leg cramps against Iowa, the Xavier offense struggled.

Christon has had leg cramps before, but as the AP story noted, Iowa’s Roy Devyn Marble went down with cramps in the same game as Christon, and it could have been the conditions at Battle 4 Atlantis that led to them.

Devyn Marble scored 30 points before leaving with a right leg cramp, a problem that affected Xavier standout Semaj Christon as well. The converted ballroom that serves as the arena for this event has a low ceiling, hot lights and it was packed with people seated not far from the floor. So yes, even indoors — and on a relatively cool day in the Bahamas — the elements were a factor.

Christon only had four points for Xavier in the Tennessee loss and it snapped a 25-game streak in which Christon had scored at least in double figures. The Tennessee loss also was a trap game for Xavier, since the Volunteers were looking for revenge and the Musketeers were still reeling from the Iowa loss the night before.

Tennessee outrebounded Xavier 41-29, held a 26-4 edge in second-chance points and overwhelmed the Musketeers in the rematch.

While Christon bounced back for 21 points against USC, Xavier trailed by as much as 23 in the second half before making a late charge to make the score more respectable.

It is certainly plenty early in the season, but this has to be a concerning trip for Xavier and head coach Chris Mack. The transition to the Big East happens for Xavier this season and the inconsistent play of the Musketeers is a concern going into conference play.

Syracuse receives mixed news on sanctions appeals

Jim Boeheim
Associated Press
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Wednesday the NCAA made its ruling on two appeals of sanctions made by Syracuse University, with the news being mixed for the men’s basketball program.

On the positive side the NCAA ruled that Syracuse will be docked two scholarships per season for the next four years, as opposed to the original ruling of three. As a result Jim Boeheim’s program only has to account for the loss of eight total scholarships, meaning that they’ll have 11 to fill in each of the next four seasons as opposed to ten.

One scholarship may not seem like a big deal, but in a sport where you only get 13 (when not dealing with sanctions) getting that grant-in-aid back really helps from a recruiting standpoint.

As for the negatives, they both concern Boeheim. Not only has there yet to be a ruling on Boeheim’s appeal of his nine-game suspension that goes into effect when ACC play begins in January (that appeal is being heard separately), but the appeal to reinstate the wins that were vacated as part of the sanctions was denied. As a result Boeheim officially has 868 wins instead of 969 (not counting today’s game against Charlotte).

And with Mike Hopkins set to take over as head coach in 2018, the denial means that college basketball will have to wait quite some time before anyone threatens to join Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski in the 1,000 wins club.

While not having the wins officially reinstated does hurt, getting a scholarship back for each of the next four seasons is a bigger deal when it comes to the long-term health of the Syracuse program. Also of great importance will be the ruling regarding Boeheim’s suspension, as a suspended coach is not allowed to have any contact with his players or coaching staff while serving the penalty.

And with the original ruling due to take up half of Syracuse’s league slate, not having Boeheim (or the chance to speak with him) is a big deal when it comes to this current team.

St. John’s forward Kassoum Yakwe cleared by NCAA

Chris Mullin
AP Photo/Rick Bowmer
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St. John’s forward Kassoum Yakwe has been cleared by the NCAA to play this season and will be eligible immediately, the school announced on Wednesday.

Yakwe is a 6-foot-8 forward that reclassified and enrolled at St. John’s this fall. He attended the same high school as Kansas forward Cheick Diallo, who was also cleared by the NCAA to play today.

St. John’s played in the Maui Invitational this week, and Yakwe did not take part. His first game with the Johnnies will be on Dec. 2nd against Fordham if the program plans to play his this season.

The question that must be asked, however, is whether or not he will suit up or simply redshirt. The Johnnies are in the midst of a serious rebuild and will be without their other elite recruit this season, Marcus Lovett. Lovett was ruled a partial qualifier. Would it make sense to burn a year of eligibility on what make amount to a wasted season, or will head coach Chris Mullin opt to save that year for down the road?