Xavier doesn't play again until Wednesday, but we've finally entered that blessed time of year when it isn't hard to find something about the team. The win over Duquesne was so not emphatic as to almost feel like a loss, but did push the team closer to the first round bye in the conference tournament. Sitting at 6-3 and in sixth place in the Atlantic 10, Xavier isn't as well positioned as they are used to being at this time of year, but they aren't out of the hunt yet. Whether they are in the hunt for an automatic bid is a matter of some debate.
Can Xavier still get an at large?
@bannersparkway @thexavierpopes if we win 18+ games we r in! Conference is great this yr. Atleast top 4 teams get in. Still hope— Tyler XU (@XuFan4Life) February 10, 2013
That tweet prompted us to contact the USA Today and SB Nation bracketologists to see whether they thought Xavier could still secure an at large or if the automatic bid was the only way the Musketeers would see the NCAAs.
@bannersparkway Auto bid or bust, IMHO, barring a sweep of those last five really difficult games.— Chris Dobbertean (@DobberSBN) February 11, 2013
.@bannersparkway My answer would be a qualified yes ... problem is, can Xavier realistically go, say, 8-2 or 9-2 through mid-March?— Patrick Stevens (@D1scourse) February 11, 2013
Early returns aren't exactly positive, but it seems both experts think that Xavier still has a shot for the at large if they essentially run the table. The team that lost to Wofford at home and Wake Forest on the road beating VCU, Memphis, UMass, Saint Louis, and Butler to close out the season is probably a pipe dream, but it is still technically possible.
How bad is this offense?
Anyone who has seen Xavier play this year after watching the high scoring teams of the last couple years probably wonders what on earth happened. Gone are the days of Mark Lyons, Tu Holloway, and Dez Wells terrorizing opposing defenses in all variety of manners. Even the understated (and underused) efficiency of Kenny Frease has been hard to replace. In their stead comes a team 240th in the nation in points per game, scoring only 64.8. Remove the 117 point aberration against Fairleigh Dickinson to start the season, and that number drops to an even 62.
But is the offense really all that bad? Xavier's adjusted offensive efficiency (click here for an explanation) is 104.8, good for 104th in the nation and a tick above the national average of 100. While that number is above average normally, it lands Xavier exactly in the middle of a relatively effective A10.
Xavier has no problem making shots, shooting 46.7% from the floor, good for 38th in the nation. Inside the arc, Xavier makes 51.4%, good for 43rd in the nation. The Musketeers effective field goal percentage (a way of factoring for the added value of the three) is 51.1%, good for 74th in the nation. Even on misses Xavier still excels, grabbing 35.3% of available offensive rebounds, 74th in the nation and first in the conference. Clearly, shooting is not the issue.
The reason scoring output is so low this season comes down to three things: free throw, turnovers, and tempo.
First, the obvious one. Xavier wastes opportunities at the line at an alarming rate. Their 64.6% mark from the line is 299th nationally and dead last in the conference. While that is glaring, were Xavier to sink the national average from the line they would actually have only scored about 20 more points over the season. Those points are vital in individual games, but don't account for the drop in scoring.
Secondly, Xavier turns the ball over way too much. The turnover percentage of 20.3% is 179th nation and right on the national average. However, the Musketeers aren't used to coughing it up that much, having posted marks of 17.8%, 18.3%, and 18.4% in the last three years. The turnovers are also a factor because of the third, and largest, reason that scoring is down.
Third, Xavier plays absurdly slowly. Right now the Musketeers play 62.8 possessions per game, a glacial pace that ranks them 302nd in the nation. That's also the slowest pace that Xavier has played in over ten years. With the tempo that low, every Xavier miss, every blocked shot, and every turnover carry a lot more weight than they do for the average team, which gets the ball four more times per game than the Musketeers do. (Northwestern St., fastest in the nation, get 13 more possessions per game).
So that is that. The actual act of putting the ball in the basket has not eluded the Musketeers so much as their ability to put themselves in good positions to do that. Between missed free throws, turnovers, and a grindingly slow pace, the opportunities to score in bunches just aren't there anymore.