If you were on Twitter last night, my condolences. Reading any message board or social media site could have led any reasonable person to believe that Xavier had just lost a vital game on the bubble resume. “Headed for dark times.” “Letting mid majors compete with us, missing wide open shots, losing big leads, can’t score, suck at FTs, needless sloppy turnovers, so on so forth.” It goes on like that for tweet after tweet. There’s no question that Xavier didn’t impress their fans with the eye test last night, but eyes and reality don’t always match up. The numbers reflect reality, and maybe there is something to be found there.
Xavier’s defense was pretty good
Xavier’s offensive efficiency after one game is 89.6. That’s not very good. Xavier’s defensive efficiency, however, was 86.2. Projected for an entire season, that number would lead the nation. The Musketeers staggered a bit defensively down the stretch, but they suffocated the Purple Eagles for most of the game. Holding the opponent to .87 points per possession and a 15% offensive rebounding rate will win almost every game. Only Niagara’s 7-18 from behind the arc kept the game close.
Xavier rebounded reasonably well
After a slow start to the game the Musketeers controlled the glass. Xavier grabbed 85% of Niagara’s misses and 29.7% of their own. The offensive rebounding number would be roughly middle of the pack but is greatly impacted by the slow start. Once Dieonte Miles stopped slapping everyone he managed a 27% OReb rate all on his own. Colby Jones and Paul Scruggs each had multiple offensive rebounds as well. Jerome Hunter managed eight defensive rebounds. With Zach Freemantle missing, Xavier needed to find a way to control the glass. For the most part, they did.
Xavier’s two point shooting is more of a concern than their three point shooting
X went 8-27 behind the arc last night. That’s not good, but it’s hardly a disaster. Xavier had good shooters taking most of the shots. Nate Johnson, a career 40% shooter, went 1-4. Adam Kunkel, a career 35% shooter coming in, went 0-3. Those numbers will come up. Dwon Odom will hopefully not take any more. Inside the arc, though, Xavier did have something of a mare. Jerome Hunter and Johnson combined to go 0-7. Colby Jones took seven on his own and only made three. All told, X shot 44.8% inside the arc. If they did that for the season it would be good for 318th in the nation.
Without Zach Freemantle Xavier struggled to get any consistent post scoring. Seven of Xavier’s 13 made two point baskets came off a drive, three more came off stickbacks. That means that Xavier managed three made buckets on a post look and two of those were a cutting Miles scoring. That, obviously, is a terrible ratio for a 40 minute game.
Xavier played very slowly
Niagara wants to slow the tempo and keep the game close enough to shoot their way into late. That’s exactly what happened last night. X tried to pick things up on their offensive end but, despite forcing turnovers on 23.2% of Niagara’s possessions, they never successfully sped up the Purple Eagles. Had Xavier made enough of their shots or turned Niagara over more, they might have upped the pace. Instead the Musketeers showed shell pressure and made Niagara bring the ball up slowly... which is exactly what they wanted to do anyway.
The coaching wasn’t the disaster show people say it was
Woven through the articles and the press conference with Travis Steele after the game is a frustration that his team did not successfully implement the changes he and his coaching staff gave them during the game. Niagara slipped ball screens all night, Steele “hammered” on that in huddles, the team never handled it smoothly. You might say that players not responding should be pulled from the game, but Xavier went eight deep with Kyky Tandy and Ben Stanley not available. Short of Cesare Edwards, who else should have played?
That’s not to say the coaching was faultless, at some point you’d like to see a concerted effort to push inside, but with a team that introduced three new players into the rotation, growing pains will come. Xavier’s problems weren’t coaching last night so much as execution. When shots fall, things look better. Perhaps more than one game is required before the coach is run out of town on a rail.
Xavier is undefeated
This doesn’t require a deep numbers dive, but Xavier is 1-0. This game wasn’t pretty, but onward and upward.