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Are ugly wins a sign Xavier is struggling?

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Winning ugly counts, but is it a sign that Xavier isn’t quite as good as expected?

NCAA Basketball: Buffalo at Xavier
This guy shouldn’t already be having to shoulder such a load.
Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

Two of Xavier’s wins have come by a grand total of four points. The other was marred by 59 fouls in 40 minutes. These have not been the kind of wins that have brought Xavier fans leaping to the fore on national forums or celebrating in the streets. Winning ugly counts, though, and the Musketeers are 3-0 and still ranked in the top 15. That’s really all that matters, right?

But what if it isn’t? At some point in time continuing to win badly isn’t indicative of a team that can just grind out a win so much as it is a bad or mediocre team just scraping by.

Reasons for concern:

Shooting: Xavier is shooting 24% from behind the arc, 72.6% from the line, and 54% from inside the arc. Those first two numbers are genuinely bad, and the final one lands somewhere in the mediocre range. Regardless, against middling to bad defenses the Musketeers are shooting really badly. Not kind of badly, not somewhere in the middle, but terribly. Unless the shooting gets better, good teams are going to bury Xavier in a scoring contest.

Everyone is fouling: If forced to play 40 minutes Malcolm Bernard, Rashid Gaston, Sean O’Mara, and Tyrique Jones would all foul out. Trevon Bluiett would have four fouls and Edmond Sumner would be closing in on that mark. That’s partially down to a lot of fouls being called, but it’s hardly news that Sean O’Mara to keep his hands to himself. With a team of essentially eight players, foul trouble instantly puts Ed and JP into the 35-40 minute range. That’s not sustainable.

The rebounding isn’t great: This isn’t to say the rebounding is awful, but it’s not great. Last season, Xavier dominated on the glass on both ends and was rarely challenged seriously. The year, the Musketeers are slipping on both ends. The numbers on the offensive end have remained roughly the same, but the national average has also increased, leaving Xavier in the middle of the pack. Defensively, Xavier’s numbers are down by a matter of full percentage points. That means that closing possessions is becoming tougher.

Those are only three bullet points, but they cover a great deal of basketball. Without shooting, with fouling pushing vital players into playing more minutes than they should, and with rebounding not sealing out possessions, the Musketeers are starting to dig themselves into a pretty serious hole.

A caveat:

Xavier is missing two of their best players. You can bet it wasn’t the plan of the coaching staff to have Malcolm Bernard playing significant time at the four, nor was it for Quentin Goodin to leap into the rotation and immediately be playing 50% of the minutes. Losing Myles Davis and Kaiser Gates has had an almost immeasurable impact on the team. That can’t be the only reason for the struggles so far. It’s possible, if not yet likely, that Xavier isn’t quite as good as we thought they would be.