The season didn’t end on Saturday. Yes, Xavier dropped a chance for a huge, huge win, and, yes, Trevon Bluiett hobbled off after a game effort, but that doesn’t mean it is time to pack things up and call it a year. Actually, that’s not even an option. No matter what happens, Xavier has to play the last six games on their regular season schedule. What they don’t have to do is be competitive in them, that’s not a guarantee. Coach Mack is going to have come up with something special in order to keep his team in the thick of things as they head into March with a heavily depleted rotation. There is a way to do that.
Keep Trevon healthy
Obviously that’s a lot easier said than done, or Trevon and Ed would both be healthy right now. The simple fact is that this team is going nowhere without Bluiett ready to contribute for 30+ minutes per game. He’s the leading scorer, he can handle the ball, he rebounds, and he plays passable defense. Xavier has no one else in the package of Bluiett. There are a lot of very good supporting pieces on this team, but without anyone to support, they add up to mediocrity.
Rebound like maniacs
On Saturday Xavier owned the glass. Actually, even that is understating it. X grabbed 80% of Villanova’s misses and an unholy 52.9% of their own. The downside of this is that the leader of that effort, RaShid Gaston, only converts 50% of his putback attempts, essentially the same as Quentin Goodin. Still, the Musketeers have one dominating weapon in their arsenal, and that’s the ability to board. This is the one place that Xavier can still well and truly crush almost any team in the nation (inexplicable Shootout lapses aside). To go anywhere come March, they have to.
The numbers bear out what the eyes see here. Kaiser Gates has an offensive rebounding rate of 7.5%, good for 13th in conference play, Sean O’Mara is at 14.2% in conference play, Rashid Gaston leads qualifiers at 16.5% in the Big East, and Tyrique Jones inhales offensive boards at a 19.2% rate. Those numbers are immense. Defensively, Xavier is even better, with every rotation player on than Quentin Goodin (8.7%) pulling down a defensive rebounding rate in the double digits.
Make one third of their threes
When Xavier shoots at least 33% from deep they are 12-1, when they don’t they are 6-6. The only outlier in the times when they do shoot that well is that travesty against UC. The good news is that in conference play the Musketeers are shooting 32.8% from behind the arc. That’s essentially statistical noise from hitting their magic number. If a few more shots drop, X is in good shape. Don’t think about what happens if they don’t. When the outside shots are dropping and the bigs are inhaling the misses, this is a team that could get hot and beat just about anyone. It might not be sustainable, but in one game they could be a nightmare.
Take care of the ball
This is an odd thing to focus on when the freshman point guard’s turnover rate in conference play is an excellent 16.9%, but Xavier has been very loose with the ball otherwise. JP Macura (18.9%), Sean O’Mara (22.2%), and Malcolm Bernard (24.8%) have been especially culpable in that regard. In conference play, Xavier is seventh in the Big East in taking care of the ball. Being so profligate leads to possessions wasted and, with offense at a premium at times, that’s something Xavier can ill afford.
It’s worth noting here that Goodin’s turnover rate is excellent, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he is using the ball well. The positive is that his assist rate of 25.9% is good for 176th in the nation. Unfortunately, he’s shooting 33.8% inside the arc, 33% overall, and he’s not exactly bashful about lifting. Goodin needs to shoot to move defenses around, but the 10-48 over the last four games is not a great deal better than throwing the ball away.