Saturday, December 04, 1999

Xavier may abandon press

Prosser looking for improvement against ETSU

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Xavier's press is on probation. After making their full-court defensive pressure a trademark of the program, the Musketeers are failing to execute their press enough that coach Skip Prosser said he will consider abandoning it.

  • When: 2 p.m. today
  • Where: Cincinnati Gardens (10,100)
  • Records: East Tennessee State 2-3, Xavier 3-1
  • TV: None
  • Radio: WLW-AM (700)
  • Tickets: $13, $9
  4-15: East Tennessee State's all-time record vs. Atlantic 10 teams
  14: East Tennessee State 3-point field goals (in five games)
  26: Xavier 3-point field goals (in four games)
  18: Consecutive Xavier victories at the Gardens, the 10th-longest active home winning streak in Division I.
        “The press right now is in a tenuous situation,” Prosser said. “If it doesn't improve, we're not going to use it. Against Kansas, the second half was like layup drills. One reason they shot such a high percentage (.593) was they made 27 layups, and a lot of that was against the press.

        “It was great for four or five possessions against Kansas. It was great for four or five possessions against Washington. But it wasn't great for 40 minutes.”

        XU has had all week to prepare for today's game against East Tennessee State (2 p.m., Cincinnati Gardens) and Wednesday spent most of practice working on its full-court attack.

        The Buccaneers (2-3, including a victory over Division III Lynchburg College) are coming off a 68-53 victory over Virginia Tech on Thursday night. They have a relatively inexperienced backcourt, so success today won't necessarily tell Prosser everything he needs to know.

        But the coach said he mostly is looking for improvement over the next three games (Miami on Wednesday, Central Michigan a week from today), or changes will need to occur before the Dec.18 Crosstown Shootout against No.1 Cincinnati.

        Because of his nature, Prosser returned from Alaska more focused on the Kansas loss than the two XU victories (over Louisville and Washington).

        “In fact, I probably brought it up to the kids ad infinitum, ad nauseam, how Kansas exposed us in certain areas,” Prosser said. “I'm pleased we came back mentally the way we did, but we still need to play better than we did against Washington.”

        Xavier is forcing 18.8 turnovers a game, up .1 from last year but down from the 1997-98 (21.9) and 1996-97 (21.2) seasons. XU also is averaging 19.5 turnovers — the most during Prosser's tenure as XU's head coach. Only once during Prosser's first five seasons did the Musketeers turn over the ball more than their opponents (1995-96).

        In half of the 46 losses under Prosser, Xavier has turned over the ball more than the other team, and three times it was even.

        Prosser does not want to turn the Musketeers into a halfcourt team. Aside from the obvious — XU's lack of size inside — he likes the press to define Xavier's identity. So do the players. High school recruits often say they love XU's style of play.

        “It sounds great, but it's hard to play that way,” Prosser said. “You've got to extend yourself longer periods of time. It's easy to say we want to be a pressing team, but saying you are and being one are two different things.

        “We're not picking up quick enough, we're not sustaining the effort long enough, we're not making good decisions on who to trap and (who) not to trap, we're not transitioning back to our man defense quick enough, we're not communicating well enough. Aside from Aaron Turner and Moe (McAfee), our press is not where it needs to be.”

        Part of the problem is inexperience. Starter David West is a freshman. Four of the top seven players — Turner, Lloyd Price, Kevin Frey and Alvin Brown — are sophomores. McAfee is a first-year starter.

        Part of it is guys playing together for the first time.

        Part of it is players not grasping the kind of effort it takes to full-court pressure an opponent for an entire game. One of the effects of the press is how it wears down other teams. The payoff — turnovers and easy baskets — sometimes does not occur immediately.

        But when the press works only for a handful of possessions, Xavier doesn't fatigue opponents.

        Physically, the Musketeers are not always in the right places on the court. Mentally, Prosser said, they have to buy into expending the amount of energy it takes to make the press work.

        “I think the hardest part's the mental part,” he said. “ ... It's a day-to-day building block type of thing.”

        Xavier has pressed more the past three years, and that's the way Prosser prefers to play.

        “I just like our guys having an aggressive mindset,” he said. “I want our guys, when they get out in the real world, to be very aggressive people.”


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