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Coach Mack is quietly gearing for March

At the end last year, it was a lack of legs that did for Xavier. Coach Mack is already trying to alleviate that problem.

NCAA Basketball: Butler at Xavier Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

When Xavier’s run finally came to an end one win, again, short of the Final Four, it wasn’t a lack of talent that did them in, but the weary legs of Trevon Bluiett, Quentin Goodin, and Malcolm Bernard. The Musketeers were seven deep by that point, and it showed. They simply didn’t have the energy left to play when Gonzaga wisely upped the pace.

This season, Coach Mack is already bracing against that. As Joel mentioned earlier this week, Q played 38 minutes per game. This year, thanks to Paul Scruggs, that’s down to 27. The same can be seen in Trevon Bluiett, who is playing two fewer minutes per game, JP Macura, who is playing five fewer minutes, and a grand total of nine players getting at least 14 minutes per contest.

The impact of that should be evident as the season goes on. While most teams shorten the rotation as conference play goes on, it’s hard to see where Xavier will carve minutes away from people. The rotation player getting the fewest right now is Kerem Kanter, at 14.6, and his 27% defensive rebounding rate and 121 offensive efficiency make him hard to replace. Next above him is Sean O’Mara, the most efficient player on the team. Next comes Paul Scruggs, the backup point guard and a player clearly beginning to come into his own.

So there are no minutes to come off the bottom at the rotation. At the top, there aren’t any Tu Holloway numbers happening. Bluiett is the only player getting over 30 minutes per game, and his minutes are down from last year. Amazingly, only JP (28.3), Kaiser Gates (26.7), and Goodin (27.8) even average over 20 minutes per game. The rest of the rotation crowds in at the high teens, leaving Coach Mack plenty of in-game flexibility.

So what does all of this mean come NCAA tournament time?

  • Fresher legs: Trevon, JP, and Q simply won’t be as tired. There is no way to avoid some miles on the legs as the season progresses, but not running the same guys 38 minutes per game keeps them in better condition. That tells when an opponent pushes the pace in the second weekend.
  • Less chance for injury: Not being on the court means not as high a risk of an injury. The more Trevon can nurse his shoulder and the more Q can simply not be running up and down, the better. This will also help inside, where depth means no one big has to absorb the Big East beating night after night.
  • Options: When Coach Mack’s top seven couldn’t get going against Gonzaga last year, he looked down the bench and saw precious little. Rashid Gaston was a somewhat inexplicable afterthought at that point, and the next guy after that was Tim Stainbrook. If the top seven struggle now, Kerem Kanter and Sean O’Mara are still waiting in the wings.

It may be a little bit early in the season to be thinking about the second weekend in March, but through judicious use of his rotation, Coach Mack is setting his team up to avoid the pitfall that ended last year’s Elite Eight run.