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The problem is the offense

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Three point shooting takes the blame, but it shouldn’t.

NCAA Basketball: Xavier at Villanova
This probably didn’t go in
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Losing a game engenders a ton of online debate about exactly where the blame should lie. It was Edmond Sumner, who is a terrible passer. It was Coach Mack, who is a terrible coach. It was Trevon Bluiett, who is a huge choker. It was Butler, because they ruin everything. All of those ideas landed on Twitter in the fallout of the Villanova trainwreck. The weight of a 25 point loss is evident in each, even if some have a grain of truth hidden underneath. None of them are completely right, though.

Xavier has played five games this year with an offensive efficiency under 100. In one of them, they played stifling defense and held Northern Iowa to 59 points. In another they scraped past a Wake Forest team that managed to convert 25 three point attempts into 15 points. The three remaining games, the three lowest efficiency moments of the season, those are the three losses. The problem in every loss is the offense.

The game against Colorado is something of an outlier even in this less than esteemed company, because in that game Xavier actually played relatively decent defense. The offensive efficiency number of 94.5 is by no means good, but it was almost enough to win that one. Xavier just made the mistake of not shooting terribly well on the same day they weren’t great at getting to their misses. It wasn’t a hard luck loss, because they didn’t deserve to win, but it was the least bad of a bad three.

The other two games don’t deserve that moniker. The offense was horrendous both against Baylor and Villanova. An efficiency of 86 like the one the Musketeers posted against Baylor would normally be considered awful, but Xavier then posted a 78.5 against Villanova. X approached that number once last year but hadn’t posted two games that low since 2013. It’s offensive incompetency on a level that, blessedly, we’ve not had to watch much recently.

Immediately, the though is that Xavier must be shooting too many threes in the losses. Well, yes and no. Those games do represent the most threes that Xavier has taken this year. There were 27 against Colorado, 28 against Baylor, and 32 against Nova. Xavier hasn’t taken more than 22 in a win this year. That’s a bit misleading though, because the Musketeers shot 32% (roughly season average) against the Bears. In fact, in terms of percentage, those game rank 8th, 11th, and 15th on the year. Not the best, to be sure, but X was worse from deep in games that they won, if not quite as prolific.

The shooting, though, was the problem in those games. Xavier’s two worst games inside the arc? Baylor and Villanova. In terms of effective field goal percentage* Villanova and Baylor are the worst, Missouri sneaks in, and then comes the Colorado game. The problem isn’t necessarily that Xavier shoots too many threes in the games that they lose, it’s that they can’t put the ball in the hoop from anywhere. In the same Baylor game where they shot 32% from behind the arc, they shot a completely horrendous 30% inside it. Against Villanova it was an almost equally awful 42.3%.

There is more to the argument, though. Those two capitulations mark the only time all year that X has shot more threes that twos. In the first half against Nova, Xavier was effective inside the arc, shooting 50%. They took ten more attempts inside the arc in the second half but shot 38%. The argument can be made that X should have looked inside more and not bombed away, especially in that first half, but when they tried that they were just as bad. Against Baylor in the second half, Xavier was 2-9 inside the arc after shooting 33% in the first half. There’s not a lot of incentive to not shoot from outside when no one inside can make anything either. No, the Musketeers should not be settling for so many jumpers, but in the games that they lose, there’s rarely been a better option.

Lest you are wondering, there is no other correlation quite as strong with a Xavier loss as their inability to convert from inside. Their turnover rate in losses is all over the place, but only against Baylor did it approach their worst. In four wins their offensive rebounding has been worse than it has in any loss. Even free throw rate doesn’t tell the story, because X has gotten to the line fairly well in every game that they’ve dropped. No, the problem has been, and remains, that Xavier loses when they can’t shoot the ball.

* Computed from (FGM + 0.5*3PM)/FGA. This differs from conventional field goal percentage by taking into account the extra value of a made 3-pointer. - Ken Pomeroy