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Will this be the year Xavier’s dog gets his due?

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Paul Scruggs is tougher than old nails and smoother than a millpond. Somehow he still flies under the national radar.

NCAA Basketball: Connecticut at Xavier Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

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.

Every good college basketball team has a player that does a little bit of everything. Whether you call him a glue guy or guy who does the little things, it’s usually someone from the mid range of the bench who comes on to the floor, works hard on defense, gets on the floor, shoots and passes a bit, and just generally helps paper over the cracks where the stars fit together. For Xavier, that player isn’t a bench guy, it might just be the most talented player on the floor.

Paul Scruggs is a dog. I mean that with all possible goodwill. No one leaves a game in which Scruggs features wondering if he was there. To his teammates he’s a constant source of cajoling and encouragement. Rare is the break where Scruggs isn’t in someone’s ear, pointing out a way to get better, work harder, or just generally live up to the standard he sets. To an opponent he’s the first guy on the floor, the one ready to take a charge, and a yapping reminder that the Zip Em Up days aren’t a thing of the past.

All of that serves to make Scruggs sound like some sort of scrappy role player leader type. He’s that, for sure, but he’s actually a lot more. Paul led the team in steals and assists last year. He’s a career 35.5% three point shooter. Last season he was fourth in the Big East and 44th in the nation in assist rate and 16th in the conference in steal rate. He drew fouls, got to the line, and converted from the line (84.1%) at the highest rates of his career. Born without any semblance of fear, he took a higher percentage of his shots at the rim than did Zach Freemantle. He did all of that while leading the team with 33 minutes played per game and averaging a line of 14.0/4.0/5.7. In short, Paul Scruggs is very good at basketball.

Despite all that, Paul doesn’t get a great deal of press. If he played at Duke or Gonzaga he’d be a household name. Jalen Suggs had an offensive efficiency .7 higher than Scruggs last year but seemed to be on every broadcast. The constantly mentioned Tyger Campbell was worse than Scruggs last season but garnered far more headlines. Those are just two names that come to mind while Paul quietly plied his trade in the second best conference in the nation.

A tournament run is the one thing that has eluded Xavier’s talisman. In 2019 he poured in 28/11/7 in a must win Big East Tournament game that Xavier lost to Villanova. The next season he missed Xavier’s last three and had to watch as his team dropped all three. Last year he was once again excellent when it mattered and, once again, wasn’t rewarded with a trip the tournament. (We still aren’t prepared to discuss Paul’s freshman season.) A trip to the Sweet 16 this season would show the nation what Xavier fans already know: that Paul Scruggs is an elite guard who can do it all and do it all well.