Rather than a full on preview for each player on the roster this year we will be attempting to focus on one question that will determine how the player might fit on the team. The questions aren’t designed to carry either a positive or negative connotation, just really suss out how the roster is built. We’ll start with the freshman and build on to the players everyone knows. We know and you know the caveats that Covid brings, so this will be the only mention of it.
Paul Scruggs can score. Scruggs came to Xavier with a reputation as someone who could put the ball in the bucket and he has done nothing to diminish that in his time with the team. Despite being surrounded by high usage players who either were or elite scorers or shot the ball as often as if they were, Scruggs has averaged five points, 12.3, and 12.7 in his three season thus far. He’s a consistent 46% shooter from the floor and 37% from behind the arc. Paul Scruggs can score.
Scruggs has demonstrated this with explosive scoring on occasion as well. Last year he got Creighton for 19, Florida for 24, and Wake for 30. As a sophomore he scored 21 against Marquette, 22 against Seton Hall, and 28 in the Big East tournament against Villanova. His high scoring game as a freshman, with Trevon Bluiett, JP Macura, and Kerem Kanter puring in buckets around him, was still 15 against Providence with a solid 11 against Florida St. Those eight games represent Scruggs’ highest scoring outputs from each of those seasons.
And therein lies the rub with Paul Scruggs. All eight of those high scoring games, games in which Paul occasionally looked unstoppable, are losses. (Florida St. is an anomaly we will never discuss again.) Most of the time when the team turns to Scruggs he answers, often spectacularly. Against Florida Scruggs scored from the post, from the midrange, from the line, and from behind the arc. There really aren’t any other places from which you can be a weapon. Two other Xavier players, barely, cracked double figures. Paul Scuggs can score, but he often has to demonstrate that as a last resort.
That brings us to the this season. For Xavier’s senior guard to be the killing weapon he can be, someone else has to shoulder the load elsewhere. If Scruggs has to bring the ball up, do the scoring, and sacrifice his body like he like always does on defense, he will break down. He did last season when the team never quite figured it out. Scruggs missing was a large part, maybe the sole factor, in Xavier’s loss at Madison Square Garden in March.
Xavier needs Paul Scruggs at his very best. When Xavier last beat Villanova, Scruggs was a rapier incisively punching holes in the Wildcat defense, finishing the game with 14 on 4-7 shooting, 4-6 from the line, and throwing in six rebounds and no turnovers to go along with the scoring. In that game, three other Musketeers were solidly in double figures and Scruggs had a usage rate of only 18%. These are the kinds of games in which Scruggs makes the difference. He has the skill set to provide the final thrust, he just has to have the opportunity.
This season he will once again find himself surrounded by talent that can put the ball in the bucket. Kyky Tandy, Zach Freemantle, Nate Johnson, Adam Kunkel (maybe), and CJ Wilcher all come with the reputation of being scorers. In a team like that, one where Scruggs is free to wait for his on offense, the senior guard can thrive in his role as the pulse of the team. At his best Scruggs is a snarling, diving, eviscerating, junkyard dog of a player. He can lead the team in scoring as well, but Xavier is likely better off if he doesn’t.