We're only three games into the season, but that Michigan game has Xavier fans (or at least me) thinking about March. How good Xavier is right now is a fairly academic question when compared to how good they may be for the two or three most important weekends of the year. Before we get there, let's discuss a little bit of basketball theory. This will be remedial to some of you and new ground for others, but hopefully it makes at least a little bit of sense.
Basketball statistician Dean Oliver breaks it down into what he calls the Four Factors of winning. They are, in order of how heavily he weights each one, shooting (40% of a team's success), turnovers (25%), rebounding (20%), and free throws (15%). Smart people disagree on the weights, but most people agree basketball roughly breaks down to those four things.
There are obviously defensive and offensive aspects to each. Shooting is as much about how bad you can make your opponent at it as it is how good you are at it. You can force turnovers or do a good job of avoiding them, win second chances for yourself on the glass and prevent them for your opponents, and get to the line while keeping the other guys from doing the same. Let's break down where Xavier is right now.
This is has not been great. Xavier is posting a below average 47.8% EFG% while allowing a 50.3% EFG% at the other end. On offense, the problem is inside the arc, where Xavier ranks 244th in the nation with a 44.2% success rate. Defensively - and this will shock you - it's all about the arc. Almost no team in the nation is worse at denying three-point attempts, and teams are hitting 36.2% of them against X.
Now we're talking. Xavier is a tick above average at ball security on offense, with only Jalen Reynolds and Edmond Sumner coming in significantly above average in the turnover department. Where Xavier has uncharacteristically excelled has been at forcing turnovers. X is currently 76th in the country in defensive TO%; the last time the team finished better than 175th was sometime before KenPom.com started tracking stats in 2001-2002.
If you watched the Michigan game you already know that this is where Xavier has been winning. They're harvesting extra possessions by rebounding 44.5% of their own misses (9th in the nation) and sitting 28th in the country by grabbing nearly 80% of opponent misses. If it comes off the rim, there aren't many teams better than Xavier at running it down.
This breaks into two subcategories: getting to the line and converting. Xavier has been above average at getting there and excellent in execution, ranking 12th in the country with an 82% FT% as a team. On the defensive end, you've likely observed that Xavier kind of fouls a lot, which is obviously not good.
So that's where we stand right now. What will it look like in March? All things being equal, I think Xavier's EFG% is going to come up. The Musketeers have a lot of guys with good track records of being efficient scorers, and I think that will start to play a little better as the season wears on. Shooting is the main area I see for improvement with this team.
I think the rebounding and forcing turnovers are for real. X hasn't played a team with a big rebounding identity so far, but James, Jalen, and even Trevon carried above-average rebounding numbers last season, and JP flies to the glass with a frightening abandon. Not every game is going to feature the advantage Xavier has cultivated so far, but X will be a dominant rebounding team.
Rebounding and forcing turnovers are kind of intertwined in my mind, because I think they both benefit from the 1-3-1. Xavier's length creates havoc on the perimeter of that zone, and it carries the rebounding bonus of having James Farr and Jalen Reynolds on the floor at the same time without having to watch friggin' Ricky Kreklow shoot uncontested threes.
I think the season will be in some ways ruddered by how much Xavier can maintain the above-mentioned advantages while bringing the turnovers down. Ed Sumner is a dynamo in the backcourt, but he can be a little loose with ball at times. If Jalen can develop Matt Stainbrook's savvy for hitting the right team when passing out of double teams, he's going to be fine in the turnover department.
How good Xavier is right now is a tough question to answer just three games into the season. I think their performance so far has given a glimpse at how good they can be, though, and that glimpse should have Xavier fans feeling very good about another Sweet 16 run.