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Is Xavier’s defensive rebounding a concern?

The Musketeers tend to be borderline elite at ending possessions. This year, they aren’t.

NCAA Basketball: Kent State at Xavier Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

The Xavier Musketeers have spent the last couple of seasons being one of the best rebounding teams in college basketball. Whether extending possessions on their own end or ending them on the other, it’s been difficult to get on the glass around the Musketeers. Last season, Xavier ranked 31st in offensive rebounding rate and 37th in defensive rebounding rate. During Coach Mack’s tenure at X, the Musketeers have averaged 47th in the nation in defensive rebounding. This year, though, that’s not the case.

First, a disclaimer. Yes, this is nitpicking about a team that currently sits at 9-1, is ranked in the top 10 in both human polls, and sits 11th in Ken Pomeroy’s rankings. Still, if Xavier currently has a weakness, it’s on the defensive end. Specifically, it’s not closing out defensive possessions by grabbing a rebound to end the stand. Right now, Xavier has a defensive rebounding rate of 72.9%, which is decent, but only qualifies as 117th in the nation. Boise St leads the nation with an 82.2% rate, solidly two percentage points ahead of the second place team.

The obvious problem with not ending possessions is that it gives the other team more chances to score. In some games, that has hurt the Musketeers. Rider scored 17 second chance points, 14 of Hampton’s 60 were second chance, Arizona State got 11, and Baylor had 10. Only one of those games ended in a loss, but that’s not an encouraging trend on the glass. Longer possessions wear down defenses, offensive rebounds lead to open shooters, and Xavier’s vaunted offense can’t score without the ball.

There are a couple of reasons for the dip in effectiveness on the glass. One, Xavier is running more this year. That’s led to more transition offense and more scoring, but it necessarily means fewer bodies going to the defensive glass. Secondly, Xavier’s peripheral rebounders aren’t doing as well this season. Tyrique Jones has inherited Rashid Gaston’s mantle as the best rebounder on the team, especially on the defensive end, where his 25.9% rate is top 60 in the nation. Trevon Bluiett, Sean O’Mara, and Kaiser Gates are all less effective on the defensive glass this year than they were last. Kerem Kanter is excellent, but he’s not playing as much as Tyrique last year. In short, it’s personnel.

Is it really a problem worth solving, though? The second best offense in the nation is rolling right now, and doing it against some defenses (Wisconsin, UC, and Baylor) that are relatively unpunctured elsewhere. A bit of defensive give is to be expected in exchange for the easy points that get the team rolling. On the other hand, the bludgeoning from ASU came as a result of defensive laxity, some of which can be shored up by simply not playing defense as much. Grab the ball, go the other way.

When it comes down to it, though, the defensive rebounding issues aren’t keeping the team from winning. The defense is ranked 57th in the nation, on the edge of elite if not quite there, but still better than last year’s and roughly in holding with what Chris Mack has turned out in his time at X. This team is built to destroy teams with offense and hold stout on defense. It may take more than a few unclaimed rebounds to derail that.