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The things that can’t be measured

We lean into the analytics, but Xavier came out Saturday with something more.

NCAA Basketball: Xavier at Seton Hall Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

There has long been a debate in every sport between the numbers and the eyes. Baseball has sabermetrics, football has analytics, basketball lives in the advanced metrics area. Watchers the world over, though, see players diving, screaming, and mean mugging and see a poetry that even KenPom’s best stats or the deepest dives into Bart Torvik’s forecasting tools can’t deliver. Even those of us dedicated to the numbers fell in love with the game because of One Shining Moment, not a breakdown of offensive rebounding rate.

The numbers tell the story. Unflinching, they relay reality that eyes can’t always be trusted to see. A dedicated Dedrick Finn fan might argue that his favorite player was better than Johnny Wolf, the numbers tell their story dispassionately. The stats are what happened. There is no arguing, no room for interpretation, no slant, just the reality. Anyone arguing against them is admitting that they have no actual argument. Anything you think you see is reflected.

But sometimes a little something gets dropped in there. Xavier won on Saturday because they seemed to come out with a little more fight than the Pirates did. Naji Marshall played frenetic defense on Myles Powell. The numbers say that Powell went 3-14 from the floor and scored nine points. The eyes suggest that was because he was wearing a 6-7 blanket for most of the game.

The Musketeers need to do the things that led them to grabbing 45% of their own misses on Saturday. The end number can be measured, but the effort it took to get to them can’t be. Xavier needs to match that again. Whatever never say die attitude they came in to Newark with needs to be on display again in Chicago. That attitude won’t be able to measured, but the end result will be. As Seton Hall roared back to within seven in the second half, Xavier took a deep breath and composed themselves to salt away a win. KyKy Tandy’s willingness to grab the ball and make a play can’t be measured, but no turnovers can be.

How does that happen? That is what Travis Steele is there for. He had his team ready to go from the off on Saturday and never let them let down. He’ll have to do that again. Paul Scruggs will have to be the first one with an arm around a teammate or a hand to pick them up from the floor. Zach Freemantle will have to keep playing with the unbelievable confidence of a kid who has come in to Big East play already looking good and decided he wanted to add the three pointer to his repertoire. The mentality that leads to any of that can’t, and won’t, be measured.

We are firm believers in metrics, numbers, and stats here. We’re going to keep leaning into those and paying for subscriptions to get them as long as we right here. For this stretch run, though, Xavier is going to have to keep doing those little things that can’t be measured. Here’s to hoping that Naji Marshall is that whirling defensive dervish he can be. Someday there will be a number for it, for now, we’ll be content to watch.