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Is Xavier a Final Four contender?

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Xavier’s defense has been something less than impressive this year, can it be Final Four good?

Xavier v Seton Hall Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

Xavier’s ultimate goal this season is the Final Four. Every team says that before the season starts but, for somewhere around 300 of the 351 division one teams, it’s a pipe dream. Sure, there is the extremely rare George Mason run, but it’s really only the top tier, high-major conference teams that realistically dream about San Antonio. This year, Xavier is amongst those teams.

Xavier has one glaring flaw this season, though, and that is defense. Even with a masterclass showing against Marquette, the Musketeers are still only 51st in the nation in defensive efficiency. That’s not bad, 300 teams are worse, but it’s not exactly dominant. The major question, though, is whether that is good enough to land Xavier in the Final Four. To find that out, it’s time to go to the numbers.

Final Four Data
2017 2013
Team Overall AOE ADE Team Overall AOE ADE
UNC 3 9 11 Louisville 1 4 3
Gonzaga 1 16 1 Michigan 4 1 48
South Carolina 24 91 3 Syracuse 10 29 8
Oregon 10 17 17 Wichita St 17 30 25
2016 2012
Team Overall AOE ADE Team Overall AOE ADE
Villanova 1 3 5 UK 1 2 8
UNC 2 1 21 Kansas 4 28 3
Oklahoma 10 16 17 Ohio State 2 5 7
Syracuse 55 30 119 Louisville 14 116 1
2015 2011
Team Overall AOE ADE Team Overall AOE ADE
Duke 4 3 12 UConn 9 18 13
Wisconsin 3 1 54 Butler 33 48 44
UK 1 5 2 UK 5 10 15
Michigan St 15 15 47 VCU 42 25 84
2014
Team Overall AOE ADE
UConn 8 39 10 Xavier (2018) 14 9 51
UK 11 10 41
Florida 3 18 2
Wisconsin 6 4 49

That is each team for the last seven years that has made the Final Four and their final rankings in KenPom overall, offense, and defense. Xavier’s 2018 data is included in the lower right. The first thing that jumps out is that, at least in overall, Xavier is easily a contender. Seven teams in the last seven years have been 14th or lower in the KenPom after they made a Final Four run. It’s also clear that Xavier has the offensive firepower to make it to the semi-finals.

The question with the Musketeers is their defense. 51st in the nation is not a great number on that table. Somewhat surprisingly, though, it’s a competitive number. Two years ago Syracuse caught lightning in a bottle and ran to the Final Four with the 119th best defense in the nation. That’s not recommended, and it’s a huge outlier. If you are looking for reasonable belief that the Musketeers can do it, throw that number out.

More pertinent is, even excluding Syracuse (something always worth pursuing), there have been seven teams with a defensive efficiency of 40 or below that made the Final Four. Wisconsin in 2015 (54th) and VCU in 2011 (84th) both rank even lower than Xavier currently does. The Badger compensated with the best offense in the country. VCU, well, they got lucky.

So what does that all tell us? First, Xavier’s defense is its handicap. There are only three numbers on that board worse that what Xavier is currently posting. Second, Xavier’s offensive efficiency is plenty good enough to place them amongst the 28 Final Four teams of the last seven years. The Musketeers are San Antonio ready when they have the ball. Finally, the defense is, even if it doesn’t always play like it did against Marquette, good enough to make the Final Four. It would be a struggle and it would somewhat buck the current trends, but even right now, its good enough.

Congratulations, Xavier fans, you’re cheering for a bonafide contender.