As summer slowly - almost imperceptibly - stretches toward welcome autumn, we continue our review of the returning players on the Xavier roster. Moving roughly from short to tall, we have discussed how Dee Davis can improve by adding some size and quickening up his release, how Xavier needs Brad Redford to be assertive on offense, what Dez Wells needs to do to go from very good to great, and how Justin Martin and Jeff Robinson - two of the most languid players in the program's history - can improve their games by bringing consistent intensity. Now the microscope turns to Travis Taylor.
When Travis Taylor's transfer was announced, Xavier fans were no doubt happy with what they saw when they looked into his numbers. Following the well-trod transfer trail previously embarked upon by CJ Anderson, Drew Lavender, and a host of others, Taylor seemed marked out for success as soon as he hit the floor of the Cintas Center for real competition. Breathless reports of Taylor as one of the best players in practice during his redshirt season served only to heighten the anticipation of the beginning of his Xavier career.
Last season's performance, then, was something of a letdown. After a couple of two-point games to start the season, Taylor averaged 10 and 8.3 against Miami (OH), Georgia, and Vandy. Despite his outwardly gaudy averages, Taylor's shooting from the floor during those three games - a modest .500 mark on 11 of 22 - foreshadowed his struggles to put the biscuit in the basket. Over the next five games, Taylor would average 5.8 and 6.2 on 43.3% from the floor. While we'll take that number from a guard or a jump shooter, it's pretty bad for someone whose chances come from within two feet of the tin.
Things got even worse for Taylor on the offensive end as the calendar turned. His made buckets per game from La Salle through the end of the year reads 1,2,2,2,1,1,1,3,1,0,4,2,1,0,2,1,0,1,1,1,0,0,0. For a guy who was expected to handle some of the interior scoring load - and who had averaged almost 18 PPG his last season before the transfer - making 27 field goals in 23 games is a pretty poor way to finish a season.
It wasn't all bad news for the man they (apparently) call Takeoff Trav, though. Even as his scoring and thus his minutes dwindled, he kept up great effort on the glass. Despite averaging fewer than 15 minutes per game all season and fewer than 12 minutes per game in the new year, he still managed to average 3.7 rebounds per game. Though he wasn't getting enough time on the floor to qualify, his rebounding rates at both ends would have put him in the top 10% or so in the nation.
So what does Taylor need to do to gain traction in his final year of eligibility? The first step is to slow down. The same maniacal effort that led to his being a menace on the glass often undid him when he went to finish at the rim. Taylor demonstrated a knack for firing the ball clean over the rim on layup attempts with only a glancing blow against the glass on the way by. If he can collect himself and simply finish layups with his strong hand at an average level, his motor will continue to put him in positions to take advantage of that. Getting his field goal percentage back up to the 54.2% he posted both of his first two years in college will do wonders for Taylor's stat line, time on the floor, and confidence.
Another way for Taylor to hold off the challengers for his minutes is to improve his performance at the free throw line. It's no secret the team had trouble converting from the line last year, and Taylor certainly shoulders his share of the blame for that. He shot 60% from the stripe, getting 1.4 PPG from there in the process. Considering that he was getting 4.2 PPG on 65% from the stripe at Monmouth, Taylor certainly left some points out there last year.
You'll know it's working when: Taylor has the confidence to gather the ball - from a feed or a rebound - and take it right at the rim without rushing or hesitation. He has the ability to score the basketball, but appeared to shrink from it and then snatch at his chances last season. He has put up huge numbers in the summer league this year; transferring that confidence to the games that matter would be huge for him.
You should worry if you see: Taylor looking like the only eighth-grader in high school open gym - a whole lot of effort, but in too big a hurry to defer. With James Farr, Jalen Reynolds, and Isaiah Philmore added to this year's roster, Coach Mack has plenty of new options to try at PF is Taylor is going to be the same player he was last season.