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Over before it really started

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The loss to Creighton was just another in Xavier’s run of losing games in the first half.

NCAA Basketball: Xavier at Creighton
Yeah, give this guy space. Why not?
Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

Apologies if you are here expecting a blow by blow recap of the Creighton game. Xavier lost. They did so by shooting the ball poorly, turning it over too much, and playing bad defense. Feel free to cut and paste another recap if you really want a feel for this loss.

10.1%, 30.5%, 68.5%, 22.3%, and 9.5%. Those are the win expectancy chances (in order) of the Xavier Musketeers winning with 30 minutes to play in their conference losses this year. The one number that looks palatable is the loss to Creighton at home. The other game that Xavier even had close to a sniff of being in was the Seton Hall loss at home. The other three games are essentially decided at the 10 minute mark. With 30 minutes left in each of those, the Musketeers were already playing out the string. Xavier is awful starting games, and it is about to cost them their season.

In the first game the Musketeers hit the 10 minute mark having just allowed a casual 17-0 run to Villanova at Villanova. X came back to gamely lipstick the pig, but there is absolutely no climbing out of that hole. When you allow Nova to punch you with a run like that in the first half, you lose. Xavier did, and they did. In the last ten minutes of the game Xavier made a spirited and essentially useless run to get their win expectancy all the way back up to 12%. This one was over early.

The next loss was a home game to Seton Hall that was essentially a coin flip at tip off. Ten minutes into that Xavier was allowing a 17-3 run and torpedoing their chances. While Xavier’s 30.5% chances of winning that game seem only really bad, they don’t explain the situation fully. That number was plunging 25% at the half and never made a reasonable recovery. Even when Paul Scruggs made a steal with Xavier trailing by only four late in the game the Musketeers didn’t get back to a 20% chance of winning. While late runs add drama, they don’t generally have any impact on who cold statistical analysis says will win the game.

In the Creighton home game Xavier trailed at the 10 minute mark but still had a good chance of winning by dint of having been a favorite to start and being at home. This is a game Xavier will really rue losing, because both the eye test and the numbers show they had basically a break even chance of winning prior to deciding that defense was optional in the last seven minutes and allowing Creighton to pour in 24 points.

The Musketeers turned over a new leaf against Marquette and elected to both dig themselves a serious hole early and also switch things up by not making a late run. The Eagles had a 78% chance of winning with 30 minutes to play but were surely pleased when they ripped off a 15-0 run early in the second half to remove any hope the more delusional Xavier fans may have been holding.

Finally, the capitulation away to Creighton. This one was essentially done with 35 minutes to play. Xavier went down 10-1 early and in doing so dropped their chances of winning to 12.1%. That was worse by the 10 minute mark and it never recovered. The masters of window dressing threw in an 11-0 run late that saw their chances of winning spike to... 6.3%. Again, this game was over before Joe Sunderman had really had a chance to warm up his gym shoes.

What does all this mean? Essentially that Xavier isn’t actually that close to winning games. They aren’t a bounce here or a better call there away from 5-2. They are getting pummeled early and the numbers reflect that. In just one of Xavier’s five conference losses were they the favorite with 30 minutes to play. In only one more were they even within an arm’s reach of having a one in three chance of winning.

And yes, it is possible to overturn incredibly long odds to win, but there is a reason those odds are so long. The reason Xavier’s win probabilities in their losses are so low so early is that statistical analysis says that teams simply can’t play that badly early in the game and come back to win. Xavier’s late runs look nice, but they don’t change the math. Until these guys figure out their early game woes, the last 90 minutes fans spend watching are an exercise in futility.