Xavier was riding semi-high after back to back wins to open the season. That all came to a crashing halt on Tuesday night against Wisconsin. By the time Brad Davison was gator chomping the crowd, the Musketeers warmish start was fast fading into the memory. The blessing and curse of college basketball is that there’s always a chance to fix the problems and get back up. Or, if you’re a pessimist, another chance to get hammered just down the road.
Xavier’s next game is against Auburn. The Tigers are 10th in the KenPom and just pounded a decent Washington team by 22. After that could be Duke. The Crosstown Shootout is just over three weeks away. In short, there’s not long to get this ship righted. Thankfully, the Musketeers have the talent and ability to fix the issues. This isn’t a team bereft of the players to still do some damage.
To start with, Xavier needs to get Quentin Goodin right. Against Wisconsin Q had a superficially good line of 13/2/5 with no turnovers. A bit deeper look shows those 13 points came on 18 shots and were backed by 2-4 from the line and four fouls. While Goodin is undoubtedly going to have some games where he needs to shoot a lot for Xavier to win, it’s more important that he is effective in initiating offense and finding good looks for teammates, not jacking jumpers on his own.
That dovetails nicely into the next thing X needs to do, which is define what it is on offense. So far this year they are a miserable 32% from behind the arc but have taken 40% of their shots from there. (For reference, last season the Musketeers shot 37.2% from deep and took only 35.8% of their attempts behind the arc.) This team isn’t loaded with shooters for whom to spread the floor so they can let fly. Q and Paul Scruggs are serviceable, Naji Marshall has his moments, Welage can clearly be deadly, and anyone else teeing one up is accompanied with a wince. By contrast, the Musketeers are 47th in the nation in shooting inside the arc and are possessed of two bigs with offensive efficiencies of 132.2 (Jones) and 124.2 (Hankins). It doesn’t seem a difficult choice.
For any offense to work, though, the Musketeers have to find some serviceable depth. Naji’s sickness clearly slowed him, but he showed enough against the best team Xavier has played to assume he’s rounding into form. Q’s shoulder is going to nag him, but he runs the point with aplomb. The two bigs are effective, and Welage is a threat every time he touches the ball. Beyond those five comes Paul Scruggs, who is almost the textbook definition of mercurial. Turnovers continue to plague him. Kyle Castlin is metronomic, but isn’t the kind of player who an offense can ride on or an elite level defender.
After that, and that’s not an overwhleming wall of talent, things get grim. Elias Harden didn’t make the floor against Wisconsin. Keonte Kennedy did, but you can be forgiven if the only way you knew that was a glance at the box score. Only a turnover save Kennedy from a trillion, and that’s not the best way to do it. Dontarius James has played ten minutes in three games and is currently sporting a line of 0/1/1 on 0-2 from the floor. From Xavier’s four players with usage rates under 15% (Castlin, Kennedy, Harden, James) they need to get something useful, or the top six are going to be ground to powder by the relentless Big East schedule.
That may make it sound as if the outlook is bleak for Xavier, but it doesn’t have to be. Q should get his legs under him, Travis Steele should adjust to his new role and adjust the offense as well. If someone off the bench can step up, the Musketeers are right back in the think of things.
Or maybe someone could actually make a three pointer.