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Xavier's offense is slowly becoming respectable

The Muskies' ceiling is still short of the Showtime Lakers, but there are signs that the bad offensive start was just a passing phase.

NCAA Basketball: Western Carolina at Xavier
"I was feeling pretty bouncy today."
Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

Before you start in on me, I know that Xavier is a long way off of the standard the team set for offensive production when Chris Mack was at the helm. Given how this team defends, though, they can come up a good bit short of that and still survive.

There are a couple of important pieces of context for the discussion of Xavier's offense. The first is that this isn't going to be a team upon which there's a guy or two to whom you can just throw the ball and watch go to work. To paraphrase a famous rant, Trevon Bluiett isn't walking through that door. For this team to succeed on the offensive end, the whole is going to have to be more than the sum of its parts.

The second is that offense is down all over since the three-point arc got moved back. D1 average offensive efficiency has been greater than 104 in each of the last six seasons; this year it's exactly 100. It remains to be seen where it will go as teams and coaches adjust to the new reality, but for now, it's important for fans to recalibrate their perceptions of what an impressive offensive performance is.

With that said, Xavier has quietly evolved into a respectable ensemble cast. Since the Florida game, Xavier has scored 396 points in 365 possessions. You could rightly point out that they haven't had to run the gauntlet to do it, but that raw offensive efficiency of 108.5 roughly translates to a top 40 offense. If X plays like a top 40 offense, this defense will take them places.

More pertinently, the team's leading scorers during those five games have been four different guys: Naji Marshall (twice), Zach Freemantle, Paul Scruggs, and Quentin Goodin. Xavier doesn't have a perennial go-to guy, but they're getting it done as a team. Naji Marshall's ORtg is climbing and his usage is staying high. Aside from his TO troubles last night, Paul Scruggs has looked like a growing star. Q is picking his shots better, flowing the offense more, and turning it over less.

Outside of the starting guards, Tyrique has been an animal on the offensive glass and something like reliable at the line. Jason Carter seems to be finding his feet, perhaps inspired by his scrimmage against Real Madrid. Zach Freemantle is a budding star and does a great job cleaning up loose balls for scrappy buckets.

Bryce Moore is far more feted on the defensive end, but he has a sneaky habit of making winning plays on offense. We're still waiting for the best of Dontarius James, Kyky Tandy, and Dahmir Bishop, but I suspect each has a role to play.

Despite a rocky start, Xavier has six players with ORtgs that are above average: Naji, Paul, Tyrique, Jason Carter, Zach Freemantle, and Bryce Moore, with a surging Quentin Goodin looking like joining them before the year is out. Aside from Zach Freemantle, none of them have an ORtg of above 110. That's seven guys who can all be effective offensive weapons but who need to buy into the team concept to get it done. When it happens, Xavier has proven capable of scoring in bunches.

There will still be frustrating offensive lulls, particularly when Xavier can't get the stops they need to push the tempo. There will probably be more games during which a dry spell early on dooms an inspired comeback attempt late on.

But the more I watch this team, the more I'm convinced that there are even more games to come in which we walk away having watched the offense do just enough until the defense starts stringing together kills and the Muskies run away, looking every bit as dangerous as we know they can be.