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Grading Coach Mack: Defense

Xavier's defense was on the verge of being awful all season until a major switch gave the team a boost. Was the switch to the 1-3-1 enough to earn Coach Mack a passing grade?

"Have you though about maybe not just standing under the basket? Tell you what, here's an idea..."
"Have you though about maybe not just standing under the basket? Tell you what, here's an idea..."
John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Thanks to everyone who participated in our inaugural Banners on the Parkway postseason report cards. With the players done, we are moving on to breaking down the various facets of Coach Mack. In addition to showing how the community rated the coach on offense, defense, man management, and overall, we'll be assigning and explaining our own grades as well. If you've missed any of the previous breakdowns, check them out in our Season in Review section.

Coach Mack: Defense
A 23 15.86%
B 64 44.14%
C 52 35.86%
D 6 4.14%
F 0.00%
Community GPA 2.72

Xavier's defense was, to put it kindly, a work in progress this year. After last year's struggles with the packline being gashed wide open by anyone who could stretch Xavier's bigs, a change had to be made. Unfortunately, those adjustments were not readily apparent at the start of the year. The Musketeers finished the season allowing opponents to shoot 34.6% from behind the arc and take 37.1% of their shots from back there. While the interior defense was equally bad, it was the perimeter defense that became the story of the season. The community recognized the struggles by putting Coach Mack's defensive grade as a high C/low B.

Coach Mack on defense: B-

This would be a C, or worse, if the 1-3-1 had not made an appearance late on in the season. It's not an exaggeration to say that switching from constantly playing man may have saved the season. Xavier simply was not good on defense for most of the year, and that is reflected in the three point stats related above and the 48.9% opponents shot from inside the arc. Xavier's somewhat slow footed bigs simply could not react to switching or playing the high hedge well enough to either cover outside shooters or prevent mismatches in the lane. It was, at times, a swirling miasma of five different players executing their defensive assignments poorly. (Remy Abell was a notable exception to this).

Thankfully, Coach Mack did break out the zone as the season went on. That one switch played to Xavier's advantages on defense. The post men were moved into the spine of the defense where their ability to grab defensive rebounds at an elite rate didn't cause the rebounding issues generally associated with zone. One the wings the lack of lateral quickness in Xavier's guards was not as exposed. On top, JP Macura and Remy Abell were ready and willing runners that kept pressure on the ball. The 1-3-1 may have been born out of desperation, at point in conference play opponents were making over 40% of their three point tries, but it turned out to be a stroke of genius.

From the first serious appearance of the 1-3-1 in early February on, Xavier went 9-5. Three of those losses were at the hands of Villanova and Arizona, leaving Xavier at 9-2 against teams that weren't #1 or #2 seeds in the NCAA tournament. Were there other factors involved in the Musketeers play in that time? Of course, basketball is rarely a zero sum equation. Still, the zone defense stands out as the one largest factor that helped Xavier pull a season back from the edge where it lingered after a horrendous loss to Creighton. The man to man still needs a great deal of work, but Coach Mack's willingness to experiment earns him a better than passing grade.