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The Emergence of Paul Scruggs

The star of this Xavier team has turned out to be its sophomore guard.

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

Without looking, which Xavier player leads the Big East in minutes in conference play? It’s the same one who is 14th in assist rate and 13th in turnover rate over that span. If you looked at the title of this article, you know that player is Paul Scruggs.

Scruggs was a nice player last year. He came on as the year progressed, eventually averaging 16.8 minutes for the first one seed in Xavier’s program history. Scrugss averaged 4.9/2.0/1.7 and showed little glimpses, 15 points against Providence, 11 against Florida State, 32% three point shooting in conference, of the player he could be. Mostly, Paul brought an almost frenetic energy, and with it a 26.8% turnover rate, to both ends of the floor. He was, putting it kindly, an obviously talented work in progress.

This season, that work is coming good. Scruggs minutes have more than doubled. He’s playing 94.2% of Xavier’s minutes in conference play, more than any other player in the Big East. That’s near as makes no difference the same as Tu Holloway in his junior season when Coach Mack rode he and Mark Lyons relentlessly. While Scruggs has only played 10 games at that level, he’s playing them at an even higher level than Tu did, albeit with a much lower usage rate.

Tu Holloway that year was magnificent and used 28% of Xavier’s possessions. Scruggs is using 19.6% in conference play (more on that later), and is putting out excellent numbers. In that span his offensive efficiency is 116.6. That is bolstered by an assist rate of 20% and a turnover rate of only 13%. That turnover rate especially is elite for a guard, especially one who has spent significant time as a primary ballhandler. Four times in conference play Scruggs has played at least 30 minutes and not turned the ball over at all.

That’s not the only thing making the man his teammates call Scrizzle a weapon, though. For the year, Scruggs is an elite shooter with a line of .491/.456/.815. While not a gunner, his 79 three point attempts are fourth on the team behind Ryan Welage (106, 39.6%), Naji Marshall (92, 22.8%), and Quentin Goodin (88, 31.8%), Scruggs has picked his spots well and connected on three or more threes five times this year. On a team that is a not nice at all 69% as a group from the line, Scruggs 81.5% mark leads the way by some distance. Ultimately, Xavier’s sophomore guard has an eFG% of 57.1%, best on Xavier’s team of any qualifier.

Throw in the best steal rate and the third best block rate on the team, and you have a genuine star. The one question that immediately jumps out is why Paul Scruggs doesn’t get a chance to use more of Xavier’s possessions. It would stand to reason that Zach Hankins, the 34th most efficient player in the nation, would get more usage than Scruggs, but he doesn’t. Instead, it’s Naji Marshall with an efficiency of 93 (Scruggs’ for the season is 112.5), Quentin Goodin at 100.6, and Tyrique Jones at 120.1 who use the ball more than Scruggs. That means there are, at times, three players more likely than Scruggs to use the ball with him on the floor. Two of those players aren’t nearly as efficient as Scruggs, and neither is anywhere close in terms of shooting. While Xavier’s offense hasn’t been dreadful this year, it would be better if the ball moved more through Paul Scruggs.

Ultimately, Scruggs has been a growing bright spot in this lost season. While the offensive hierarchy may not yet reflect it, the sophomore has become Xavier’s best bet for a star turn.