On January 10th Xavier sort of played Villanova. I say sort of, because it was a bloodletting from start to finish. In that game Xavier’s freshman guard Paul Scruggs appeared to continue what had been a disappointing start to the year. Scruggs logged 20 minutes and in that span found the time to commit four fouls and turn the ball over five times. It wasn’t the kind of game that Scruggs will likely look back on with fondness, except for the fact it may have saved his season.
In that 24 point defeat, Scruggs was 3-4 from the floor, 2-2 from the line, and added a steal and three rebounds to his eight points. Those eight represented the most points that Scruggs had scored in a game since November 13th against Rider. Less than a month after logging zero minutes against ETSU, he was playing half the game against the best team in the nation. That his line wasn’t glittering obscures the fact that Scruggs seems to have used that game to have turned a corner.
Since that game Paul is 5-10 behind the arc, 7-13 inside it, and 4-7 from the line. In the 17.8 minutes per contest he’s played since Villanova, he’s turned the ball over exactly three times. His per game line has jumped to 6.2/1/2.4 with a sample size influenced average offensive efficiency of 140.2 in that span. Those are the numbers of a very good backup point guard. In fact since Big East play has started, Scruggs efficiency rating is 100.9, his assist rate is an excellent 24%, and his turnover rate has dropped to 27.9%.
For some context, those numbers compare very well to other Xavier guards of the past, even those not possessed of Scruggs defensive abilities. Last season Quentin Goodin’s assist and turnover rates were better, but he was so woeful shooting the ball that his offensive efficiency in conference was 83. Even as a sophomore Larry Austin Jr. was unable to shoot as well and was roughly Scruggs equal in terms of using the ball well. (He also attempted no threes in conference play). Somewhat shockingly, Scruggs rate stats in conference play are better than those of Tu Holloway’s freshman campaign. For the year Holloway averaged 21 minutes per game, but posted an offensive efficiency of 91.4, an assist rate of 19%, and a turnover rate of 29.5%.
Scruggs’ emergence has also allowed Chris Mack to take some weight off Quentin Goodin or play with two point guards. Over the last five games, Scruggs is logging the second most minutes at both of the guard positions. As other teams shorten their rotation with the postseason approaching, Coach Mack is able to stay reliably nine deep, confident that Scruggs defense and developing offense will keep the team steady in the absence of either Goodin or JP Macura.
Less than a month ago it was hard to see a recurring role for Paul Scruggs in Xavier’s stretch run. Now, as the calendar turns to the interminable month of February, Scruggs looks more and more like a piece that Xavier can rely on when the games matter.