If there was one team left on Xavier's schedule this year that it simply could not afford to lose to, it was DePaul. Looking back at a chart from mid-December, it was only DePaul that had a red ranking for being a truly deplorable loss.
You'll note both that the table is no longer in number order, this allows us to see which teams are improving (Seton Hall) and which are getting worse (Georgetown). Providence is close to moving into the green "acceptable loss" territory, while Creighton is about to plunge into the red. Xavier already dumped a game to an Auburn team that also would have been in the red, and now lost to DePaul, who is just awful at basketball. These are not the building blocks on which NCAA tournament bids are established.
Once again, Xavier's defense is going to carry a lot of the blame for the DePaul loss. From the moment that Myke Henry put the ball on the floor for the Blue Demons first points, Xavier could not stop dribble penetration. The Blue Demons aren't a bad offensive team, but they shouldn't have been allowed to shoot 52% from the floor. Billy Garrett's constant running past whoever was guarding him opened penetrate and pitch opportunities and DePaul knocked down 10 of the 20 three pointers they attempted.
That number would suggest that they may have shot the Musketeers out of the zone that they attempted, but that wouldn't be correct. The Coach Mack critics will rightly point out that the zone was effective until Xavier inexplicably switched back to man. Xavier has always been a man to man team, and the packline defense has been part of that since Sean Miller was the coach. Simply put though, this Xavier team is getting destroyed off the dribble. Dee Davis, Myles Davis, and Trevon Bluiett have been the most culpable, with Dee's regression being the most aggravating.
Defense excepted, Dee is on the verge of being an elite point guard. His assist rate of 33.5% is 48th in the nation, his steal rate is in the top 150, and his offensive efficiency of 108.1 is certainly good enough to make him a threat. One of Dee's closest statistical comps is Peyton Siva of the 2013 national champions. Dee's turnover rate, though, remains a concern (much as Siva's did for him). A 23.3% rate is overshadowed by the assists, but it still speaks to a carelessness with the ball. In a devastating sequence against DePaul in which Xavier went turnover, turnover, turnover, 3pt miss by James Farr, turnove, offensive foul, it was the senior point guard that committed three of the turnovers, two on wild drives into the lane.
This has been a lot of information without a lot of conclusions so far. Xavier essentially is facing three major issues right now:
1. Road/bad losses
It's one thing to drop the occasional conference road game, everyone does, and it's ok to drop the occasional clanger, everyone does that as well. What is concerning is when both of those become a pattern or when the losses become egregious. Xavier is now 2-4 away from home and have lost to two genuinely bad teams when travelling. At some point, you have to be able to beat Auburn and DePaul, regardless of where the game is.
2. Terrible guard defense
This one will come as no surprise. From the moment Dee missed time with injured ribs until now, Xavier's perimeter defense has been porous at best. Teams are still shooting 35.6% from deep against the Musketeers, and still getting 34% of their shots from there. Both of those numbers are well below normal. It's not that Xavier is giving those looks up to clamp down on drives either, because that's also not happening. A step forward against Georgetown was followed by a huge step back against DePaul.
3. Lack of point guard depth
Dee Davis is a solid player, he's also playing more than anyone else on the Musketeers other than Trevon Bluiett. His immediate backups, Brandon Randolph and Larry Austin Jr., are combining to get only 39% of the possible minutes in a game. Considering that Randolph occasionally spends time on the court with Davis and that Austin is generally only a late sub, this leaves Dee without a meaningful backup. Randolph started the season well, but has been both very bad (offensive efficiency over 100 twice since Thanksgiving) and not used much (six minutes each of the last three games) recently. He's looking like a career backup at this point, while Austin can't even get on the court.