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Playing the blame game

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It’s not been the season that Xavier fans were wanting, and fingers are pointing everywhere.

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

Twitter can be an ugly place. That’s no more evident (at least for our purposes) than after a Xavier loss. It ranges from the opinions on players:

To the coaching:

To just general malaise:

The above is a somewhat representative sample edited for the purposes of keeping this a family site. After each and every game recently, the fingers of blame point far and wide. Naji shoots too many threes, Q turns the ball over too much, the coaching is awful, the defense is worse than awful, the offense appears to be a three man weave, the fans are terrible, someone is being critical, someone isn’t being critical enough and on ad infinitum.

So where does Xavier Nation think the blame should really lie? Yesterday, I asked and, of course, even that made someone mad.

Thanks, Penny. Just trying to make ends meet in a gig economy. The actual question asked where the blame should mostly lie for the lost season: defense, offense, coaching, or talent.

The following numbers are taken from when this article went to press and may not reflect the exact finishing margins in the poll.

Talent deficit- 46%

Most Xavier fans look at this team and simply don’t see the talent necessary to compete in the Big East. Xavier lost five players from last season’s roster who are now getting paid to play, two of whom have been on NBA rosters already this season. Recruiting efforts to replace that group, perhaps Xavier’s most talented team ever, were greatly hampered by the well circulated rumor that Chris Mack was departing for Louisville at the end of the year. As you can imagine, it’s hard to sell 17 and 18 year olds on an uncertain future.

That issue was only exacerbated when X lost players with Mack’s actual departure. This left Travis Steele and staff scrambling to land grad transfers, where they excelled, and whichever recruits were still available, which left them with Keonte Kennedy and Dontarious James. In the same situation when Mack took over, he landed Jeff Robinson, Griffin McKenzie, Brian Walsh, Jay Canty, and Jordan Latham in back to back years, only bringing in Mark Lyons, a Sean Miller recruit, and Tu Holloway, an already committed transfer. In short, swing year recruiting is incredibly difficult. Steele already appears to be a step ahead with next year’s top 20 recruiting class. Until then, according to most of you, Xavier fields a roster that just doesn’t have the talent to compete with Marquette and Villanova.

Bad defense- 24%

Travis Steele’s assertion that this could be one of Xavier’s best defensive teams ever has proven to be rather inaccurate. Actually, this is Xavier’s worst defensive team of the analytics era, and it isn’t even close.

Since that article was run, the defense has, somehow, gotten worse. Right now the Musketeers are 199th in the nation, clinging to a line above the 200s, populated by teams like Tennessee Tech, Rider, and Hofstra (201, 202, 203). Xavier’s defense has never been worse. Creighton scored 76 in the last meeting between the teams. That doesn’t seem too bad, but the Jays only needed 61 possessions to do it. Teams are routinely scoring more than 1.2 points per possession, Nova gashed X for 1.31, and Evansville (!) managed 1.18. If you chose defense as the reason Xavier has gone in the tank this year, you aren’t wrong.

Offense- 18%

Xavier’s offense is 53rd in the nation. That’s not all that bad, really. What has crippled the Musketeers this year are the time and place they choose to flex their poor decision making. Against DePaul, Xavier turned the ball over on five straight late game possessions. In 12 games this year the turnover rate has been over 20%, twice it has cracked 30%. Xavier is 4-8 in those games.

The Musketeers have also shot the three almost inexplicably often, and poorly at that. In 14 games they have made less than a third of their three point attempts. Xavier has won five of those games. Special credit has to be given to a 5-24 (20.8%) effort against Wisconsin, 5-25 (20%) against UC in the Shootout, and a morbidly impressive 1-14 (7.1%) against Marquette. Naji Marshall has taken the second most threes on the team and has converted only 24%. Quentin Goodin is only two attempts behind Naji and is only making 31%.

It’s not just the turnovers or the three point shooting, though, it’s that Xavier frequently spends large portions of games looking confused on offense. The Musketeers make teams defend for 18 seconds on the average possession, but aren’t using that time to churn highly efficient offense. When X takes time and feeds the post, they are good. When time spent turns into yet another dribbled into three point attempt (Xavier has made only 19 of those this year) or Kyle Castlin pull up two pointer, X is running bad offense.

Coaching- 12%

This one is harder to quantify with numbers, but just over a tenth of you think you know bad coaching when you see it. This could come out in effort, which has lagged at times, spending 10 seconds running a three man weave, or in some other nebulous way. It’s fair to say that Travis Steele has, at times, struggled to adjust to what is happening in front of him in game. The continued travails of Elias Harden, and the bench in general, have also been a concern. Fatigue is a problem, why aren’t deep rotation players getting more run as the starters tire? Defense is awful, why hasn’t another scheme been tried? Why on earth is Naji Marshall still shooting threes? These are all legitimate questions, and the guy in the suit is the one who has to answer them.

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Ultimately in a season like this there is plenty of blame to go around. Xavier isn’t yet at the level where rebuilding means a seven seed instead of a one or two. Those days still look to be coming though. Hopefully the lost season eventually fades to the memories of another deep tournament run.