Semaj Christon

St Johns Xavier Basketball

Xavier’s Semaj Christon bypasses final two years, declares for the 2014 draft

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Xavier guard Semaj Christon significantly improved his game during this past offseason. Known as the sophomore leap, Christon became a better finisher around the rim, and started to develop his perimeter skills, unveiling a burgeoning jumpshot. According to ESPN’s Jeff Goodman, coach Chris Mack received just two years to refine Christon’s skillset: the guard will declare for the 2014 NBA draft.

Mack and Company have the requisite depth to handle Christon’s absence; Dee Davis should return for his final season, and should the incoming roster remain stagnant, the extra minutes will benefit Brandon Randolph and Edmond Sumner. What Xavier will miss without Christon is the element of aggressiveness that the sophomore imbued on the squad; Christon was one of the nation’s best at getting into the lane and drawing fouls.

MOREThe entire list of players entering the 2014 NBA Draft

The loss of Christon, though, has consequences that extend well past Cincinnati — the Big East simply continues to take hits. Buzz Williams left Marquette for Virginia Tech, Mack’s name has been whispered for the opening at Wake Forest, JaKarr Sampson similarly declared for the professional ranks, and now Christon’s announcement. The conference might be entering the realm where it is high major only in the eyes of those who still remember the sweater game and Rip Hamilton. It has endured knocks that have severely diminished its reputation as a premier league.

Improved defensive effort helps Xavier snap three-game skid

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With No. 6 Villanova and No. 12 Creighton not only headed to the NCAA tournament but in the process of fighting to earn protected (top four) seeds, the Big East has at least two teams who will hear their names called on Selection Sunday. The question at this juncture in the season is who else will be able to earn a trip, with Providence and Xavier being two of the teams in consideration.

That made their meeting in Cincinnati on Saturday afternoon one of high importance, with the winner taking over sole possession of third place in the conference standings. And if Xavier was to defend its home floor and end a three-game losing streak, the Musketeers had to defend better than they did in the first meeting. In Providence’s 81-72 win on January 25 the Friars shot 64% from the field in the second half, with Bryce Cotton scoring 25 points and dishing out seven assists (no turnovers) and LaDontae Henton adding 23 points and 11 rebounds.

Given the importance of Cotton to the Providence attack he’s clearly the player teams need to slow down in order to beat Providence, and that was the primary goal for Xavier in the rematch. And thanks in large part to Semaj Christon, who wasn’t asked to defend Cotton much in the first meeting, the Musketeers were able to accomplish that goal.

Christon limited Cotton (seven assists, three turnovers) to nine points on 4-for-11 shooting and forced two critical turnovers down the stretch as Xavier beat the Friars 59-53. An exciting athlete who can score from just about anywhere on the floor while also setting up his teammates, Christon also has the length needed to be a pest on the defensive end and that attribute was critical in the defending of Cotton.

Providence was able to hang around, even leading for a significant portion of the first half, with Josh Fortune being the primary reason why. Fortune finished the game with 17 points, scoring 12 in the first 20 minutes, and if the Friars are to make a run at an NCAA tournament bid they need Fortune to be less deferential offensively. He doesn’t have to score at the level of a Cotton or Henton (14 points vs. Xavier) but the sophomore has to be a credible threat. And given how well Fortune can shoot the basketball, that means no longer passing up quality looks.

But in the second half Xavier performed better on both ends of the floor, limiting Providence to 32% shooting while turning the ball over just once after committing seven turnovers in the first half. With Christon leading the way on the perimeter and a front court with multiple options (Justin Martin and Matt Stainbrook scored 13 apiece on Saturday), Chris Mack’s team has the talent needed to return to the NCAA tournament after missing out a season ago.

But that will only happen if they defend consistently. An issue in the first meeting between these two teams, Xavier had no trouble doing so in the rematch. And as a result, the Musketeers find themselves in sole possession of third place in the Big East.

Xavier rebounds from sluggish first half to beat undermanned Georgetown

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Facing a Georgetown squad with just ten available scholarship players, Xavier seemed poised to get back on track after suffering their first Big East loss at Creighton on Sunday afternoon. But things didn’t work out that way in the game’s first 20 minutes, with the combination of Georgetown’s hot three-point shooting and Xavier’s lack of both effort and execution being the biggest factors.

The argument that a Georgetown team that entered the game shooting just 33% from beyond the arc wouldn’t duplicate its 63.6% first half could certainly be made, but that would only be the case if Chris Mack’s team showed greater effort defensively. And that’s exactly what happened, as the Musketeers outscored Georgetown 44-14 over the final 15 minutes to win 80-67 in Cincinnati.

What happened? Xavier got tougher on the defensive end, no longer allowing Georgetown to simply go through its movements with little or no resistance. As a team the Hoyas shot 37.5% in the second half and made just three three-pointers, with senior guard Markel Starks shooting 2-for-8 from the field. Also of note is the fact that the Hoyas committed twice as many turnovers in the second half (six) as they did in the first (three).

Offensively Xavier did a much better job of utilizing their balance (four players finished in double figures) and attacking after they spent much of the first half slowed down (and possibly even perplexed) by the Georgetown zone. Dee Davis scored 15 of his 17 points in the second half and Semaj Christon added ten (18 for the game) for the Musketeers, who shot 57.7% from the field in the second half and scored 1.55 points per possession.

Xavier’s improved execution allowed them to finally take advantage of Georgetown’s lack of depth, pulling away to win by a margin that can lead some to forget how difficult the first half was.

In regards to Xavier’s hopes of contending for the Big East title the win was a big one, as they’ll play five of their next seven league games away from the Cintas Center. Back in October the expectation was that Xavier would be an improved basketball team, but few thought them capable of being a contender in their new league. If they execute at the level they did over the final 15 minutes on Wednesday night, the Musketeers are capable of doing so.

Creighton gets 35 from Doug McDermott in a win over Xavier

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No Grant Gibbs?

No problem.

Playing their first game without the sixth-year senior guard thanks to a dislocated kneecap he suffered in a win over DePaul didn’t slow Creighton down at all.

The Bluejays got a combined 37 points and 14 assists from Devin Brooks, Austin Chatman and Jahenns Manigat as they overcame a 12-0 start by Xavier to beat the Musketeers, 95-89, on Sunday afternoon.

Chris Mack’s club entered the game as one of the hottest teams in the country, winning eight straight games and starting out Big East play 3-0. But the Muskies ran into a Creighton buzzsaw, as the Bluejays sharpshooting — they went 14-for-28 from the floor — was too much to handle. Creighton routinely packs more than 17,000 people into the CenturyLink Center in Omaha, and when the Bluejays get rolling, that place gets loud. It’s not an easy place to get a win even when you hit four thees in the first two minutes of the game.

Xavier’s going to be fine, especially now that Semaj Christon is back to playing like an all-american.

What was more impressive here was Creighton. Doug McDermott is an awesome scorer. We all know that, and the 35 points, seven boards and three assists that he posted on Sunday will do nothing to dissuade that notion. But what makes Creighton so hard to defend is when they also run Ethan Wragge out there. Wragge is a big, 6-foot-8 forward that has enough strength to throw his weight around in the post. But he also happens to be one of the best three-point shooters in the country. He made five of them on Sunday, including three straight 25-footers early in the second half that blew the game open.

When he’s on the floor at the same time as McDermott, it spreads out the defense and creates driving lanes. But it also basically ensures that one of the two will get an open look from beyond the arc on every single possession. Big men aren’t accustomed to playing defense 30 feet away from the basket. They aren’t used to being unable to leave their man, even for a split second. Most guards are used to the idea of having to get a hand in a shooter’s face that far away from the rim. They deal with it every day.

Big men aren’t used to it, and that’s how you have to guard Wragge and McDermott on the perimeter.

It’s also why I’m looking forward to Creighton’s visit to Villanova next Monday. The Wildcats actually have big men that can guard on the perimeter and hold their on in the post against McDermott. Will having the best player in the conference be enough to allow Creighton to beat the best team in the league and the only team in the league that they won’t have a matchup advantage?

Xavier’s Semaj Christon is a stud, and why Marquette fans should be very worred

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All anyone is going to want to talk about after Xavier’s 86-79 win over Marquette on Thursday night is how the Golden Eagles appear destined for the wrong side of the bubble this year.

And it makes sense, as weird as it sounds saying that about a team coached by Buzz Williams. Marquette is now 9-7 on the season. They’ve played seven good teams this season and lost all seven games. Their best win is either George Washington in the Wooden Legacy tournament in California or their win over DePaul in Big East play. That’s not much to write home about.

The biggest problem?

This isn’t last year’s Big East. There just aren’t as many good wins available for the Golden Eagles to get in league play. They have two games left against Villanova, and beating the Wildcats this year will definitely move the needle. They will also get another crack at Creighton, as well as Xavier, at home. Toss is two games against a very mediocre Georgetown team, and that’s it.

Those six games, two of which many not even be beneficial.

It’s way too early in the season to write anyone off, but the Golden Eagles are playing with fire.

Back to my point, that’s going to be the topic that gets most of the play from this game on Thursday night, and that won’t necessarily be fair, not after Semaj Christon put together what is arguably his best game as a Musketeer. He finished with a career-high 28 points, hitting 8-for-10 from the floor, 9-for-10 from the free throw line and all three of his threes, a notable fact for a player whose perimeter shooting is his biggest issue.

Christon, quite simply, was awesome, but the number you’ll really want to pay attention is the one turnover he had.

Because that was the first turnover that Christon had in almost three weeks.

With just under 14 minutes left in the first half of Xavier’s win over Alabama on Dec. 21st, Christon turned the ball over. It took 140 minutes of gametime in which he notched 25 assists — with three full games in between — before Christon turned the ball over again.

This from a guy that averaged 3.6 turnovers as a freshman.

My point?

Xavier had an abysmal trip to the Bahamas for the Battle 4 Atlantis, but they’ve now won eight straight games (including Cincinnati, Alabama and Marquette) and have their all-american caliber point guard playing like the potential first round pick that he is.

The Musketeers are streaking, which is why their trip to Creighton on Sunday is so intriguing. They’ve played their first three Big East games at home. Can they get it done on the road, too?

Xavier whips crosstown rival Cincinnati in spite of turnover-filled night

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After going 0-3 in The Bahamas, Xavier needed to turn things around with the start of Big East play rapidly approaching. And after wins over Bowling Green and Evansville, their matchup with crosstown rival Cincinnati was supposed to represent another stiff test for Chris Mack’s team. But thanks to some hot shooting from the field overall and from beyond the arc, the Musketeers’ 20 turnovers did minimal damage in their 64-47 beating of the Bearcats.

Yes, in a game in which they posted a turnover percentage of 33.3% (turning the ball over on one of every three possessions) and point guard Semaj Christon dealt with early foul trouble Xavier won by a comfortable margin. Why?. Because of what the Musketeers were able to do when they held onto the ball. Xavier shot 11-for-16 from beyond the arc and 56.4% overall, and they assisted on 16 of their 22 made field goals.

By comparison Cincinnati shot 33.3% from the field and could only convert those 20 turnovers into 14 points (Xavier scored 15 points on ten Cincinnati turnovers). With the Bearcats shooting as poorly as they did, and leading scorer Sean Kilpatrick attempting just nine shots from the field (he was averaging 12.8 attempts/game entering Saturday), Xavier was able to get away with their turnover problem.

When they held onto the basketball Xavier was very good offensively, with Justin Martin (17 points) and James Farr (ten points) leading a balanced effort with five players scoring at least seven points. Turnovers were a problem in The Bahamas, as Xavier turned the ball over 19 times in two of the three games, but on the season this is a team that ranks second in the Big East in turnover percentage.

With the jet-quick Semaj Christon running the show Xavier has a capable floor general, and newcomers like Myles Davis and Brandon Randolph will only get better with more experience. Thanks to their effort on the defensive end, and what they were able to do with the possessions that didn’t end with a turnover, Xavier wrestled away bragging rights from their city rival.