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Xavier Basketball and Consistency

I set out to do a little light mathing in regards to the consistency problems this Xavier team has had so far this year. By the time I was done, I came to the conclusion that the team's most inconsistent player is the key to the season. God help us all.

Jeff is finally here to take care of business (I hope).
Jeff is finally here to take care of business (I hope).

Xavier is currently 15 games into a 30-game slate, so this seems like as good a time as any to take stock of things. The Muskies are sitting at 9-6, which, considering their schedule, is the record you might expect from a fairly mediocre team. On the other hand, there are lines on Xavier's resume - most notably their wins over Butler and Temple - that would indicate that there may be something more to this team than a first-round road game in the NIT. How can a team capable of losing to Wofford, Pacific, and Wake Forest also be able to knock off those two teams? In a word, inconsistency.

Because inconsistent teams are largely made up of inconsistent players, I decided to set out to quantify exactly what was going on within the Xavier machine that made it spit out such wildly varying results. To do this, I first tracked down the pertinent averages for each of the top seven scorers on Xavier's roster (big pat on the back to me here; I have conquered copy and paste). Then I set out to categorize how consistent each player's output is from game to game. Since I don't understand standard deviations and didn't want to figure it out and then explain it to you, I instead went with a simplified process. If a player tallies between 85% and 115% of his season average in a given stat, he has had an average game. Between 115% and 150% of his average is good, and anything above 150% is excellent. On the negative side, between 85% and 50% is bad, and anything below 50% is poor. Remember, these are only measures relative to the player's normal output. We're trying to track consistency here, not overall production.

Another thing to note is that not all excellent-poor spectrums are created equal. With the Semaj averaging just over 14 points per game, he has to go over 21 points for any single game to be excellent or tally 7 or fewer for a game to be poor. Brad Redford, on the other hand, averages exactly one rebound per game. If he gets 0, the game was poor, 1 makes it average, and 2 makes it excellent. There is no middle ground. One also must consider that different facets of different players' games are more important. To continue with the examples, for instance, a poor scoring game from Semaj does far more damage to Xavier's chances of winning than does a poor rebounding game from Red. Still on board? Good.

Anyway, as the team's leading scorer, Semaj is first up.

Semaj Christon
Averages: 14.1/2.1/4.8

Excellent 2 2 2
Good 3 3 5
Average 5 3 1
Bad 1 0 1
Poor 3 6 4

As you can see from the chart, Semaj is a fairly consistent scorer. In that Xavier has anyone they can count on to consistently put points on the board, Semaj is it. He has been within 15% of his average - a difference of about 2 points either way for him - in 5 of his 14 games, and has had more good games than bad. The problems with Semaj's scoring consistency are twofold. The first is minor, in that sometimes Semaj takes a lot of shots to get his points, such as his 18 on 6-16 against Pacific or his 14 on 3-11 against Wake. More concerning, when Semaj is below average, he tends to be very bad. His four sub-par games this year have seen him score 10, 6, 5, and 2. The 2 against Butler were somewhat mitigated by his elbow problems and his 8 assists, but the other three games he was simply bad in Xavier losses.

Semaj also occasionally has games where he doesn't seem to be able to find his teammates (pro tip: they're the ones dressed like you). For Semaj to have a "poor" game in this department, he has to get either 1 or 2 assists; he has tallied an effort on that level on four occasions. For whatever it's worth, Xavier has gone 2-2 in those games. Maybe the most instructive thing to learn from that is that Semaj is not a pure point guard so much as he is a scorer who also happens to be a talented passer. I suspect we already knew that.

Travis Taylor
Averages: 11.3/7.8/1.3

Excellent 3 1 4
Good 2 7 2
Average 4 3 0
Bad 4 2 1
Poor 2 2 8

Trav has run hot and cold as far as scoring is concerned. While he is certainly capable of hanging a big number on an opponent, he is - or at least was, early in the season - also capable of disappearing entirely. As a big man, he is somewhat dependent on perimeter players to get him involved in the action, but it's worth noting that he has shot 12-40 (30%) from the floor in his six sub-par games. The good news is that Taylor seems to respond to being involved early, and the team has seemed to figure this out. After going for single-digits four times in the first seven games, he has only done it twice in the last eight. For the past six weeks, Taylor has been as consistent a scorer as anyone on the team.

As Taylor is the team's primary rebounder, it's important to know that he can be penciled in for numbers on the boards. Like his offensive output, Taylor's rebounding has been above reproach of late. After a stretch between 11/22 and 12/6 in which he put up four below-average rebounding games in five outings, he has been above his average in each of the last seven. Out of the ashes of a rocky start, Taylor has settled in as one of Xavier's most reliable producers, coming in below average just once in each of scoring and rebounding since the win over Purdue. In the last eight games, you've more or less been able to rely on Taylor's steady production.

Dee Davis
Averages: 9.5/1.6/3.7

Excellent 3 3 2
Good 2 5 0
Average 2 0 2
Bad 5 3 9
Poor 2 3 1

One thing you never doubt about Dee Davis is that you are getting his best effort. The dude gives 100% effort 100% of the time, so naturally I kind of assumed that his numbers would reflect a steadiness of output that equaled his steadiness of effort. They don't, and the obvious reason for that is his massive numbers in the season opener. That doesn't actually skew him that badly on scoring; his PPG numbers have fallen off hard since a good start, leaving him bad or poor in seven of his last eight games no matter how you slice it.

Assists are a different story. As you can see in the chart, he has failed to get to 85% of his season's average 10 times, which isn't great for a point guard who has played 14 games and isn't noted for his scoring ability. However, if you remove the Fairleigh Dickinson game and its subsequent impact on Dee's averages, Dee has 7 average or better games, five bad ones (each of which he garnered two assists in), and a lone poor game. If consistency is the ability to hit your season averages, Dee doesn't have it in the assist column. A little digging, however, reveals that the averages are somewhat skewed. Still, there's no way around the fact that Dee hasn't been the model of steadiness that I assumed I would find when I started this little project.

Justin Martin
Averages: 8.7/5.2/1.2

Excellent 1 3 3
Good 6 2 0
Average 2 3 0
Bad 1 3 6
Poor 4 3 5

For a brief moment in time, Justin Martin looked like he was going to be a reliable second scorer for Xavier. He tallied double-digits in Xavier's first eight games before suffering a concussion late in the OT loss to Vandy. Since then, it has been mostly bad from JMart. Even his lone double-digit effort - 10 points against Temple - took him 11 shots. Even worse, Martin has shown a propensity for going completely AWOL on the offensive end. In his four "poor" games, he has gone for 4, 2, 1, and 0 points on 21 field goal attempts. Throw in a "bad" game of 6 points on 6 shots, and it's clear that Justin Martin can't be counted on for consistent offensive production.

Rebounding is even more of a crapshoot with Martin. With his length and athletic ability, you would think that he would be able to rip down boards with aplomb. He has shown an ability to go well above the rim and rebound in a crowd from time to time, but he has a tendency to float around the perimeter and ball watch too much. In any given game, the chances of Martin having huge rebounding numbers or being a complete no-show on the glass are pretty much the same. For a guy with his talents, that's fairly maddening.

Jeff Robinson
Averages: 8.0/4.8/0.4

Excellent 5 1 5
Good 1 5 0
Average 1 1 0
Bad 2 5 0
Poor 5 2 9

Speaking of talent and maddening, Jeff Robinson! Robinson has one average scoring game and one average rebounding game. As you may have imagined, he is all over the board. You might get the 13 and 7 that you got from him against Drake on November 25th, or you might get the 0 and 2 that he posted the very next time out, on December 1 against Purdue. You already knew this, but trying to predict Robinson's production based on anything that happened in the past is a fool's errand. With Jeff, you're getting whatever you're getting that night, and there seems to be nothing to do but hope.

Painfully, when Robinson plays well, Xavier wins. In his average, good, and excellent scoring games, Xavier is 7-0. In his bad and poor ones, the Muskies are 2-5. He averages 9.7 and 5.3 in Xavier wins and 5 and 3.8 in Xavier losses. No matter how you slice it, there is a correlation between Robinson's performance and Xavier's result. Is that because his playing well makes Xavier win, or because teams he can play well against are easy to beat? You can draw your own conclusion, but I for one would love to see more Good Jeff as his senior season wear on. I'm not counting on it, though.

Brad Redford
Averages: 7.9/1.1/0.6

Excellent 3 5 7
Good 2 0 0
Average 2 5 0
Bad 4 0 0
Poor 4 5 8

Brad Redford's scoring output on the season is not evenly divisible by three, which is kind of surprising. What isn't surprising is that Redford has more bad-poor games in terms of scoring than anyone else we'll examine today. His offensive game is still fairly one-dimensional (i.e., catch-and-shoot or one-dribble threes), and when that dimension isn't clicking, it can get fairly ugly for him. On the other hand, there's always a chance he catches fire. He shot Xavier to victory against Kent State and GW and was instrumental in the team's success against Temple and Butler. Redford always carries with him the potential for a massive outburst, but he has run hot and cold all season, and it's hard to say going into any given game what Xavier will get out of him.

Redford's other consistency numbers - and I say this as someone who really, really likes watching him play - are borderline comical. He averages 1 rebound per game and, as discussed above, can't statistically have a "good" or "bad" rebounding game. One board makes him "average." Anything more is "excellent," anything less is "poor." His assist numbers are even more stark. If he gets an assist, it's "excellent;" if not, it's "poor." His average is so low that there is no middle ground. This is not an indictment of the young man's game; it's simply a foible of the stats and an illustration of what he contributes to the team.

Isaiah Philmore
Averages: 5.8/5.3/0.7

Excellent 2 2 2
Good 3 2 2
Average 4 2 4
Bad 0 6 2
Poor 3 0 2

Any disappointment with Philmore's performance is more related to expectations surrounding him coming in than ups and downs in his performance throughout the year. As far as scoring goes, Philmore has laid an egg three times, all in games that he did not get much playing time. In the eight games in which he has gotten at least 20 minutes, he has never failed to score at least his average. If you give this guys some burn, you pretty much know what to pencil him in for. The problem has been more one of consistency than production for Philmore.

Rebounding is another story altogether. While he has averaged 5.3 RPG, that is skewed upward by his average of 8 RPG in his excellent and good games. The difference is fairly slim owing to his relatively modest average, but you have a much better chance of seeing Philmore come up short on the glass than you do of seeing him hit his averages. He is still struggling for consistency on the boards, and this is not tied to his minutes. It's not worth much in basketball terms, but Philmore's assist numbers are as close to a bell curve of consistency as anything we've seen in this study.

So what have we learned? I guess that depends on how much we knew beforehand. Semaj is the team's most reliable scorer but is all over the board in terms of assists. Travis Taylor got off to a rocky start, but now he is the proverbial Steady Eddie for the Musketeers in the middle. If you have to bet on anyone on this team coming in around his averages, put money on Trav. Thanks in part to his huge first game, there isn't much correlation between Dee Davis' averages and the actual output you're likely to see on the court at any given point in time. The caveat with Dee is that some of things he does best - steady the team, become a pest on defense, initiate the offense - don't show up in the box score, at least not in the PTS/REB/AST game line.

The farther down the line you go, the wonkier things become. JMart may give you his average scoring, but there is almost as good a chance that he doesn't even get half of it. There's absolutely no future in trying to predict his rebounding numbers. Gratifyingly, the numbers confirm what we know about JRob, and that is that we don't know anything at all. Brad Redford is a shooter who needs to be making to be productive in any facet of the game. That gives him potential for explosion but also the chance to be fairly fruitless in any given game. Finally, Isaiah Philmore has been steady but below the production most Xavier fans were hoping for when he transferred in from Towson.

Brad and I talked six weeks or so ago in the Sunday Conversation about how the hierarchy of this team breaks down, and I think this goes a long way to answering it. I was surprised at how many games Semaj was right near his scoring average; his one bad stretch had imprinted him in my mind as mercurial, but he seems to be adjusting to the league's adjustment to him. Travis Taylor is clearly the number two man, and the rest of the team seems to be recognizing it as well.

It is the role of the number three player on the team - someone who can spackle in the cracks and reliably score without demanding possessions - that is still eluding this Xavier roster. Because I'm the right mixture of stupid and optimistic, I still think Jeff Robinson can fill that role. Dee Davis is more of a Drew Lavender; someone who can hurt you if left open or on the occasional drive but is ultimately more comfortable moving the ball. Justin Martin - and I know this will sound ridiculous coming from someone who just endorsed Jeff Robinson, partly on the basis of a game in which he hit three mid-range jumpers - still spends too much time looking like he doesn't know which way is up. Brad Redford is a streak shooter, and Isaiah Philmore is more about real estate than dynamism down low.

The only other option is to fill that hole by committee, which is what Xavier has been doing to this point. That is somewhat viable if someone different steps up each night, but it has led to spotty results for the Muskies as Semaj and Taylor have been left to shoulder the load night in and night out. Just this one more time, and after a study regarding inconsistency - his calling card - I'm going to put my faith in Jeff Robinson. Come on, Jeff, don't let me down.