When Xavier University's men's basketball team got back on the court for practice on Wednesday, the day after a disappointing loss at St. John's, they watched every defensive possession from that 93-84 loss, and the entire 90-minute practice that followed was spent on defense.
"It comes down to the discipline to do it, part of it is effort, I think a bigger part of our issue is the discipline piece," Xavier head coach Travis Steele said Friday in his pre-game press conference ahead of Sunday's visit from Butler. "Our guys, they know what we need to do and they know we have to do it in order to have the success we want to have as a team.
"And we don't have weeks to figure it out, we have days to figure it out."
Steele said they've gone back to the drawing board defensively and they've been reteaching their system.
Sunday's meeting with Butler at Cintas Center is incredibly important. Not simply because every win at this point in the season is important for teams hoping to make the NCAA Tournament, but because it's a chance to make progress – to get back on track – and Xavier hasn't had too many chances recently to do that.
Xavier (11-4, 4-4) took care of business at Butler (7-12, 6-10) 68-55 a few weeks ago behind a strong performance from senior Paul Scruggs. Sunday's rematch presents a contrast in style for the Musketeers over the last two games.
"Last game we played the fastest team in our league in St. John's," said Steele. "This game's gonna be the slowest. So it's gonna be a snail's pace and you have to maximize your possessions."
That means taking care of the basketball and working to find the right shot. Butler's going to bring toughness and Xavier has to match that as well. Steele added that his team needs to get out in transition and push the pace. Butler wants to take its time offensively, but Xavier has to get out and open up the pace because that will lead to more shots and more possessions, and that's an advantage for the Musketeers.
But ultimately, this game will largely be decided by how Xavier defends.
"I want to see our defense progress," said Steele. "Can't get any worse than it was against St. John's."
Xavier's also preparing as if Butler's Bryce Nze will play, although it's unclear at this time if he will. Nze missed Butler's last game with an injury and he was a factor in the first meeting with Xavier, posting a team-high 16 points and 11 rebounds.
With Xavier's last two losses the Musketeers have drifted backward, closer to the NCAA Tournament bubble than they would like to be.
It's an uncomfortable position, but it's also a unifying one.
"We have a together group," said Steele. "I've met with each guy individually since coming back from St. John's just to make sure they're clear on where they stand with their role on our team – what we need from each individual – and each guy, to a man, understands that.
"They just want to win. I think that's really important. That's probably the most important thing that you can have at this point in the season. Usually, what happens a lot of times is guys start checking out, they do. They start thinking about maybe I can go here. In three weeks, man, I can't wait until practice is over or ... where's my next stop going to be? Am I going to play professionally? Am I going to transfer?
"... That's a lot of kids right now. A lot of teams are battling that right now as we speak and I think to a man on our team we've got all guys onboard, which is really, really important."
- Tipoff: 7 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 21 at Cintas Center
- TV/Radio: FS1 with play-by-play from Eric Collins and analysis from Dickey Simpkins. Byron Larkin and Joe Sunderman will have the radio call on WLW-AM (700). Broadcast also available on Sirius XM channel 385 and internet 975.
- Series info: Xavier leads the series 42-23.
Xavier Musketeers (11-4, 4-4)
Coach: Travis Steele, third season (49-33 overall)
Offense: 77.9 ppg
Defense: 70.9 ppg
Player (Position, Height, Key Stat)
Paul Scruggs (G, 6'4", 14.2 ppg)
Zach Freemantle (F, 6'9", 16.5 ppg)
Adam Kunkel (G, 6'4", 7.1 ppg)
Jason Carter (F, 6'8", 7.0 rpg)
Nate Johnson (G, 6'4", 11.9 ppg)
Butler Bulldogs (7-12, 6-10)
Coach: LaVall Jordan, fifth season, fourth at Butler (77-76 overall)
Offense: 63.4 ppg
Defense: 68.0 ppg
Player (Position, Height, Key Stat)
Bo Hodges (G, 6'5", 9.8 ppg)
Aaron Thompson (G, 6'2", 10.4 ppg)
Bryce Golden (F, 6'9", 9.6 ppg)
Bryce Nze (F, 6'7", 7.7 rpg)
Myles Tate (G, 6'0", 7.0 ppg)
Players to watch
Hodges made his debut for Butler in the first meeting against Xavier a few weeks ago and he provided quite the spark with 11 points and six rebounds off the bench. He's since worked his way into Butler's starting lineup.
Scruggs was monumental in the first meeting with Butler, essentially carrying the Musketeers on his back to the finish line with a game-high 24 points. That version of Scruggs is what Xavier needs on Sunday and the rest of this season.
Key to the game
Xavier needs a win. The Musketeers also need a game in which they commit to the details – the little things that go a long way – at both ends of the floor. If Xavier can't find the details against a struggling Butler team, it likely won't bode well for the remainder of this season.
KenPom.com: Xavier (60); Butler (125).
NET: Xavier (48); Butler (142).