Xavier has been, primarily, a defensive team through the years. Good offenses were, it seemed, bolstered by stingy defenses capable of shutting down an opponent at a moment's notice. There's a reason "zip 'em up" is part of the Xavier Nation lexicon. This season started as more of the same but, as the offense has clicked has clicked into a gear not seen since Jordan Crawford, the defense has started to tail off. In conference play, Xavier's defensive efficiency has dropped to 102.8, below average, as high numbers are bad for defense. That came to a head this week, when St. John's and Marquette went for 83 and 82 points, respectively. While some of that is down to teams more effectively scheming against the 1-3-1, some of it comes down to personnel as well.
1. Remy Abell doesn't mesh well with the 1-3-1
This particular zone requires a rigid adherence to rotations that must be aggravating for a good man defender. When the ball goes to one side and forces an overload, quick passes back around the top leave the weakside wing with a choice to make. Remy has been that wing from time to time and he absolutely has to pinch in more quickly. Instead, he tends to stay in a good man to man position on the guy on his wing and leaves a driving lane that has been letting a man from the point penetrate the defense and put the "1" at the bottom in a bad position.
2. Which guards should play in a man to man?
No player on Creighton has taken more shots at the rim than point guard Maurice Watson. Watson has also taken the most free throws on the Bluejays. What those numbers mean is that the guy drives, and drives a lot. What anyone who watched the Marquette game fears is the same look of Xavier defenders on skates. Remy Abell shines in the man to man and it's possible that he will draw this assignment. That still leaves the alarming possibility that Xavier's other guards will have defend someone in the man to man. Out of Edmond Sumner, Myles Davis, and JP Macura, who would you want in front of a quick ballhandler? LAJ also excels in the man to man, so it's possible Xavier's defenses may start becoming more predicated on their own personnel as opposed to the opponents.
3. Xavier's lesser rebounders need to step up.
Since conference play started Xavier's defensive rebounding rate has slipped from over 75% to just under 70%. That's not an insignificant margin. Marquette managed a 33% offensive rebounding rate and kept the game close by outscoring Xavier in second chance points. Jalen Reynolds and Trevon Bluiett have maintained excellent defensive rebounding numbers, James Farr continues to be somewhere in the deal with the devil range, and Remy is clearly the designated breakout man. After those four though, Xavier's ability to close out possessions is slipping. Players who are hitting the defensive glass worse in conference play are: Sumner, O'Mara, Davis, Macura, Gates, and Austin. Creighton provides a chance for the Musketeers to reestablish dominance on the defensive glass, but then so did the Golden Eagles. Xavier's secondary rebounders need to get it back going.