Christmas Eve is, without question, my favorite day of the year. After we attend the Christmas Eve service at our church, my family loads into the all wheel drive sleigh, grabs some specialty drinks at Starbucks, and then drives around looking at Christmas displays until the children are sound asleep. It's all very idyllic and frequently features the, for once appreciated, cliche of a lightly falling snow.
Last year, the Musketeers had done their absolute best to crap up the holiday by losing to Wofford on the very most Jeff Robinson play of them all. This year, the team rolls into the Christmas break on the back of an exciting comeback win over a very defensively excellent Alabama team. With our presents to the players already wrapped and under the tree, there's time for a brief look at a defensive unit that has simply choked the life out of opponents.
Defensively, the Musketeers are simply devastating. According to Ken Pomeroy's defensive efficiency rating, they are 36th in the nation. That's an elite number. Xavier achieves that by playing relatively slowly at 67 possessions per game. On defense they force opponents to take 17.7 seconds per trip down the floor. Those numbers simply aren't conducive to teams scoring a lot of points.
Even more impressive though, is the way Xavier limits shooting. If teams shoot a lot of threes against you, the law of averages says you'll end up getting burned eventually. The Musketeers allow threes on roughly a third of defensive possessions and allow opponents to convert only 30% of those attempts. Inside the arc things don't get a lot better, as the opposition finds itself shooting only 46%, a mark that makes Xavier amongst the 100 top stingiest teams.
Xavier also blocks 12% of opponents shots and gets a steal on 10% of defensive possessions. Both of those numbers are in the top 85 nationally. Add to that a team that is grabbing 72% of available defensive rebounds and you have a ferocious defense. To top it off, opponents are somehow worse at the line at 61.2%(!) against Xavier than Xavier is against them.
Those numbers all reflect the team effort. On the individual level, several Musketeers are also having big defensive years. Defensive rebounding rate (sometimes seen as DR% in our previews) basically measures how many of the defensive rebounds available to him a player grabs. Matt Stainbrook ranks 42nd in the nation with his 25.4%. That number actually doesn't even lead the team, as James Farr (who doesn't have the minutes to qualify for national ranks) grabs an astonishing 26.2%. Erik Stenger gets 20.2%, and Jalen Reynolds15.7%. Even Brandon Randolph is over 10%. Those numbers all add up to that impressive 72% as a team.
Blocks are something of a Xavier specialty as well. Jalen Reynolds and Erik Stenger both swat 6.8% of the shots opponents attempt when they are on the court. Matt Stainbrook is 100th nationally with his 7.1%, and James Farr again leads the way with his 7.5%. Further from the rim, Dee Davis ends 3.2% of opponents possessions with a steal. Semaj Christon has a solid 2.3%, Justin Martin pilfers to the tune of 2.1%, and Myles Davis' 2% isn't bad, but Matt Stainbrook has the number that jumps out as even from the post he ends 2.5% of possessions with his quick hands.
Of course, all that defensive effort comes at a price, and that price for the Musketeers is fouls. If Jalen Reynolds, James Farr, Justin Martin, or Isaiah Philmore ever got a shot to just play until they fouled out, none of them would last 40 minutes. Matt Stainbrook would, but only just. The chief offender is, of course, Reynolds, who commits a foul for every four minutes he plays.
It's true that the competition that Xavier has played factors into these numbers a bit, but it's not the whole story. The Musketeers strength of schedule is almost dead in the middle of NCAA DI at this point. Abilene and Gardner Webb stick out as obvious cupcakes, but Iowa, Tennessee, Alabama, and UC add some real mettle into the mix. In the fourth best conference in the land, Xavier currently has the fourth best defense even after schedule factors. In short, this defense is good, and it could be the reason Xavier goes dancing come March.