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Finding ways to lose

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Xavier’s struggles this season don’t come down to just one particular ill.

NCAA Basketball: Xavier at Villanova Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

It seems rather self-evident why Xavier lost on Wednesday night. Turning the ball over at a 28.9% clip against a Big East team, even a fellow struggler like Providence, is a recipe for a loss. Xavier followed that recipe, and they lost. Pulling up the season numbers, I fully expected to find that Xavier lost when the turned the ball over, and won when they didn’t. That wasn’t the case at all.

For starters, the game in which Xavier had the highest turnover rate, an astronomical 31.6%, they won by 18. In the turnover table, three losses (Providence, Auburn, and Missouri) follow in three games in which Xavier threw the ball to anyone who was open, regardless of what team they were on. However, the Musketeers have also won three games in which the turned the ball over on at least 22% of their possessions. Lest you think that simply not turning the ball over against good teams is the way to go, Xavier posted a 10.8% rate in getting drilled by Villanova and a 15.3% rate against Wisconsin. Turnover rate is not your bellwether.

Perhaps shooting is the key, then. Xavier has lost five of their worst six shooting performances by effective field goal percentage (EFG), but I posit to you that any team posting an EFG of 32.4%, like X did against Marquette, is going to lose. On first blush you can also see that Xavier wins every game in which they have an EFG over 56%. Easy enough, but posting that mark for the season would leave them amongst the top 15 teams in the nation. The good squads win on the in between shooting nights and in there there is no rhyme or reason based solely on the shooting. X can shoot well (53.9% against Providence) and lose, shoot horribly (45.5% against Butler), and win, or both take care of the ball and shoot well like they did against SDSU, and still lose.

Offensive rebounding rate is a scatterplot with no discernible correlation to Xavier’s fortunes. The same goes for free throw rate, three point percentage, and two point percentage.

Defensively, one thing does jump out. Xavier has lost eight of 11 in which they allow higher than their usual 28.8% offensive rebounding rate to their opponent. Still, though, X has been excellent on the glass against Marquette and still lost and horrific against Miami Oh and won. They’ve turned teams over on more than 20% of possessions (SDSU) and lost, and not turned Georgetown over hardly at all and still won. Opponent three point percentage hardly matters because Illinois and Evansville both shot over 48% behind the arc, and both had at least 23 attempts, and still succumbed to X. Providence shot 27.3% from deep and still won. This isn’t just cherry picking either, but simply a demonstration of the remarkable variance in Xavier’s statistical outcomes.

Is there a conclusion to be had in all of this? Likely, yes. Xavier is a callow team deprived of their two biggest leaders from last season and their coach. “Leadership” is an old crutch for commentators to lean on when they don’t have any real analysis, but what Xavier has lost is stability and with it the ability to be consistently good where they are good. Some games this year they don’t turn the ball over, but they shoot it wretchedly. Sometimes they care for the ball and shoot it well, but play appalling defense or allow opponents to grab over 40% of their misses. (Villanova and SDSU, if you were wondering.) This is, quite simply, an inconsistent team with a coach who hasn’t yet quite gotten his hands on a way to solve that. For this season, there are no certain roads to a win.