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The worst defense in Xavier history

Xavier’s defense is plumbing depths never before seen in the analytics era.

NCAA Basketball: Xavier at Creighton
Xavier smothering Martin Krampelj
Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

In 2005 Xavier had an awful defense. They had an adjusted efficiency of 102.4, good for 158th in the nation. Duquesne, 256th in the nation that year, scored 72 on them, teams shot almost 38% behind the arc against them, they blocked only 8% of shots, they didn’t turn anyone over, and they got crushed on the glass. That team, Sean Miller’s first, didn’t even sniff the NCAA tournament and weren’t invited to the NIT. The team possessed a solid offense undone by a shambolic defense. That defense was significantly better than the one Xavier has put on the floor this year.

Yesterday was just the latest performance by a defense that has become genuinely awful. Amongst the entirety of the major conferences, only Wake Forest, Utah, Washington St, and California are worse. As you may have guessed, those teams are all bad this year. Xavier’s adjusted efficiency is 104.5, 184th in the nation. Like that Sean Miller team of old, the offense is in the top 50 nationally and is being completely wasted by a defense that recently looks increasingly incapable of stopping anyone.

Yesterday was an encapsulation of that in one 40 minute sample. Xavier was clearly worried, as they should have been, that Creighton would bomb them out of the CHI Health Center. Doug McDermott recognized that Xavier was switching every screen and adjusted almost instantly. Martin Krampelj, who had last scored 20+ on December 28th of 2017, promptly went to work inside as Xavier got stranded with a guard inside on every switch. Krampelj went 8-10 inside the arc with a 42% usage rate as Xavier sold out to defend the arc. They did that to the tune of allowing the Bluejays to shoot 46.7% from deep.

The Creighton game was as an obvious case of outcoaching as you are likely to see in college basketball this year. McDermott was prepared with a plan and variations on that plan. Coach Steele came in with a single idea and watched the game get away, unable to adjust.

That’s not the only time this year Xavier has played inexcusably bad defense, though. Five times already they’ve posted a defensive efficiency of 120+ in a single game. (For reference, 100 is average and lower numbers are better.) That’s the same amount of times they did in the 2017 season, and already more than they did in all of the seasons ending 2016 or 2018. Horrendous games like that will happen from time to time, but this season’s team has also had an efficiency of 110 or higher 11 times this year. The last time they did that in a single season was never. Xavier’s defense isn’t just bad this year, it’s very bad, very frequently.

Some of this is down to personnel. Quentin Goodin struggles with quick guards, Naji Marshall just plain struggles. Zach Hankins throws shots with abandon, but can be had if he can be pulled away from the basket. Ryan Welage is an offensive weapon but a defensive liability. Kyle Castlin is susceptible to quickness. Paul Scruggs, Tyrique Jones, Elias Harden, and Keonte Kennedy have all been at least solid defensively. Four defenders on a roster does not a defense make.

And some of it is coaching and scheme. That was obvious against Creighton, but it also was an issue against Nova, where Steele couldn’t get his bigs working in concert, or against SDSU, where they couldn’t slow a an Aztec run. Zone has worked at times, but man to man has been a wasteland.

All of that adds up to the worst defense in Xavier history. Since analytics started, no Musketeer squad have been worse. You can gape at the 31% turnover rate yesterday all you like, but this team is being undone on the other end of the floor.