Welcome back, football fans! If you have been following solely the NFL like every sports publication, radio show, and tv talk show in the world, it may have been with some shock that you looked up and saw Xavier in the top five. I watch the NFL like (apparently) everyone else right up until my team is eliminated in mid-October. After that I still follow along and cheer for whichever quarterback it is the Browns are sacrificing to an angry god, but my heart is already in February, waiting for the rest of the world to catch up on college basketball. Well, we're here now and the Xavier Musketeers sit an almost impossible to fathom 21-2 and are being talked about for a one seed.
If you are just catching back up, you may wonder how this happened. Wasn't Xavier picked to finish fourth in the Big East? (Yes). Wasn't Jalen Reynolds supposed to have to carry the load while the others figured how to settle in around him? (Yes). Isn't Xavier a team that generally peaks as something of a surprise in mid to late March? (Also, yes). How, then, does that leave us with Xavier in the top five in the nation and second in the Big East? Well, here's how it happened.
1. The 1-3-1 graduated to a legitimate defense
Last year Xavier debuted the 1-3-1 against Providence in an attempt to force a poor shooting team into beating them from outside. This year, Xavier has used the 1-3-1 in almost every game with annoyance extraordinaire JP Macura at the top of it most of the time. Xavier's defensive efficiency is 47th in the nation right now (with a bit of a blip lately) in large part because they play the zone so well.
2. James Farr is a monster
Two years ago, James was a pick and pop four who played 12 minutes per game and shot 55% from the line. Now, Farr is the nation's best rebounder, a monster on defense, and a 79% free throw shooter who excels in getting to the line. The numbers have James sixth in the nation in OR%, 24th in DR%, and sporting a 6.2% block rate to go with a 2.4% steal rate. Oh, and he's averaging 10.3 points per game and shooting 55.6% from the floor. Farr has a real case to be this team's MVP.
3. The team is incredibly deep
Six players average at least nine points, eight guys play at least 11 minutes per game, nine guys have an offensive efficiency rating over 101, and most games feature at least ten Musketeers seeing decent court time. Only Trevon Bluiett plays more than 75% of the available minutes and he clocks in at 75.4%. This team has a plethora of weapons and rebounds and defends in waves. Every one of the top ten players on the team has scored in double figures at least once this year.
4. Offense and rebounding
The saying may talk about defense and rebounding, but Xavier has put a bit of a twist on that. The Musketeers are 17th in the nation in offensive efficiency and are averaging 80.8 points per game. When it comes to rebounding, Xavier is 23rd in the nation in offensive rebounding rate and 34th in defensive rebounding rate. Three players are in double digits in both rates and whippet thin guard Edmond Sumner manages almost an 11% defensive rebounding rate. This team scores and gets on the glass.
5. Edmond Sumner dunks on everyone
Remember Ed? He appeared six times last year and then had to redshirt because he was visibly growing while sitting on the bench. Well, he's back this year and his favorite thing to do is punch it on people and then run the other way as if he's just happy to have made the team. A horrendous injury against Villanova came from his penchant to try to rise against any and everyone, but it hasn't appeared to have impacted his relish for dunking the ball. He's also shooting 35% from deep and gets to the line like a machine.