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The conundrum of Jerome Hunter

Jerome Hunter has been excellent at all but the most visible part of the game.

NCAA Basketball: Norfolk State at Xavier Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

The Xavier Musketeers are off to a good start this season. After a first couple games that were a bit shaky, X has knocked off Ohio State and then obliterated Norfolk State. The reason for that has been tenacious defense and rebounding that has exceeded any expectation. Significant in both of those has been the play of transfer forward Jerome Hunter. Xavier has also been plagued by inconsistent or downright bad shooting. Jerome Hunter tops the table there as well.

Hunter came into the season as something of an unknown quantity. An incredible athlete, he struggled at Indiana after injury and then some off court issues. In our season preview we wrote “What he doesn’t do is rebound very well. His rates will land him somewhere between Paul Scruggs and Colby Jones. Not exactly what you expect from someone with his size. Defensively he struggles to stay in front of a man and isn’t a back side shot blocker, though one assumes that Coach Steele and staff will work on that.”

Coach Steele and his staff have worked on that. Hunter has trimmed down since his time at Indiana and looks quick and athletic. Steele has deployed him for matchups from EJ Liddell to some time on Christian Ings yesterday. Hunter has responded with aggressive defense and intelligent play. Jerome is averaging 35 minutes per game but, despite picking up matchups all over the floor, is only averaging 3.7 fouls per 40 minutes. Hunter’s block and steal rates are both over 2%. Defensive improvement? Absolutely.

On the glass Hunter hasn’t just improved, he’s been incredible. Hunter’s 8.7% offensive rebounding rate is fourth on the team now, but would have led the team last season. That he doesn’t lead this year speaks far more to the entire team’s commitment to the offensive glass. His rate is more than double what he averaged at Indiana. On the defensive glass Hunter’s 20% rebounding rate trails only possession eraser Jack Nunge. Jerome has been a constant presence on the boards on both ends and is a large part of why Xavier is 39th in the nation in offensive rebounding and 60th in defensive rebounding.

Xavier isn’t anywhere near those numbers shooting the ball, though, and Jerome Hunter is an unfortunately large part of that as well. Hunter is 3-10 on close twos, 0-5 from everywhere else inside the arc, and 2-14 from deep. That is dreadful shooting. Xavier is 71st in the nation in two point field goal shooting. Remove Hunter (which bumps them from 54.1% to 58.4%) and X jumps to 30th. Xavier is currently 235th in the nation with an appalling 29.7% behind the arc. Remove Hunter and those numbers jump to a still not very good 32% and 189th. Hunter is averaging 4.8/7.0/2.3, but he’s getting his points by volume, which is reflected in his 79.4 offensive efficiency.

So Jerome Hunter has greatly improved on his defense and rebounding. It’s no stretch to say he is one of Xavier’s better players in both of those categories. Hunter has added a dimension to Xavier’s defense as a guy who can match up all over the court but also still get to the defensive glass. That kind of versatility is why Xavier’s defense has been so good so far this year. However, all that defensive usefulness has come at a cost. Hunter still shoots like a player who knocked down 54% of his twos and 34% of his threes last year as a Hoosier. Until he’s actually doing that again, though, Jerome is giving on one end and taking away on the other.