“Good defense beats good offense” goes the old saw. Last year Virginia had the nation’s fifth best defense but won in large part thanks to the second best offense in the land. The team they knocked off, Texas Tech, was heralded for their defense but also had the 25th best offense in the nation. This is all pertinent because right now Xavier has an excellent defense, but their offense is nowhere near those heights.
The last time Xavier had an elite offense was at the end of the Chris Mack Era, when they were eighth in the nation. That team was undone by their 57th ranked defense and some bizarre officiating against Florida State. Even if the Musketeers aren’t always in the top 10, they routinely occupy a spot around 30th or even higher. This season, they are 52nd.
Yes, a large part of that is because Xavier generally can’t hit water from a boat from behind the arc. 28.1% is, still, appalling and is still not rising in a way that would suggest there is even a mediocre shooting team lurking somewhere in there. Couple that with bad free throw shooting and you probably have the reason that the Musketeers are languishing below Pepperdine in offensive efficiency.
Concern now is one thing, but the main concern of every college basketball fan is what their team will look like come March. Assume Xavier maintains that 52nd place mark and the results are not encouraging. For starters, teams with offenses that bad are fighting an uphill battle just to get into the tournament. 30 of the 64 teams had offenses that were below the 52 mark, but only 13 of them were at large bids. Teams got in with bad offenses, but by and large it was because they came from bad conferences that they outright won.
Xavier’s goal is to make at least the Sweet 16 every year and then see how things shake out from there. In the Sweet 16 last season only one team, Oregon, had an offense below number 50. The Ducks were on a 10 game run that saw them win the Pac 12 and represent the anomaly there. The worst at large offense in the Sweet 16 was Florida St at 36th and they sported the 10th best defense in the nation. No other Sweet 16 team, so 14 of 16, had an offense outside the top 25.
What does all of this mean? Likely that Xavier needs to get better on offense. They have taken steps in that direction recently and have also added Kyky Tandy, who promises to bring a bit more punch. The other thing we learn is that a truly elite defense can carry a team into the second weekend. Oregon and Florida St weren’t great on offense, Oregon was actually 74th, but both were in the top 15 on defense and so gave themselves a shot to get deep enough to have a puncher’s chance. For the Musketeers to do that, all they need to do is keep crushing people on defense. March’s second weekend takes comers of all type.
But making some shots would help.