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Xavier can improve by fixing just one thing

Xavier’s offense has struggled because of the shooting, but just getting shots has been a bigger problem.

2021 NIT Season Tip-Off - Xavier v Virginia Tech Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

If you ask most Xavier fans what one thing the team needs to fix to become more successful on offense, the answer would be nearly unanimous. Xavier’s three point shooting has been abysmal this year. Despite two games in which the team shot over 45% from deep in a significant amount of attempts, for the season the Musketeers are shooting 29.9% from behind the arc. That’s really bad. Fix that and things look a lot rosier. After all, both of those good shooting games are wins.

It’s not that simple, though. Shooting isn’t a quick fix issue. Bad shooters don’t become good over night, streaky shooters don’t wake up one day and become consistent, and then there’s Jerome Hunter. Shot selection could get better and Xavier does shoot better off more rotation deeper in the shot clock, but neither of those factors are so marked as to make fixing them easy or fast. X may shoot better as the season goes on, but it’s equally likely they’ll continue to struggle.

There is one thing that the Musketeers can fix though, and that is their carelessness with the ball. Xavier is 267th in the nation with a 21.3% turnover rate. That means that on a fifth of their possessions, Xavier doesn’t even get a look at the bucket. You can’t deploy the nation’s 50th best offensive rebounding team or attempt a two pointer (the team is making 54.6% of those) when the ball is racing the other way.

Somewhat surprisingly, it is two guys who were surehanded with the ball last year that are leading the way in turnover rate this year. Dwon Odom (34.8%/2.2) and Paul Scruggs (24%/3.3) are both topping the charts in turnover rate and turnovers per game for the Musketeers this season. Colby Jones slots in between them in actual turnovers per game, but more on him later.

Dwon Odom was elite with ball security as a freshman. His 14.2% rate dropped to 9.6% in conference play. Both of those are the numbers of an interior big who isn’t counted on to bring the ball up. Odom added a lot to the offense by simply making sure the Musketeers had the ball. This season has been nearly the opposite. Odom is shooting the ball much better (and less) but it is throwing it to the other team nearly 20% more than he was last year. His game has improved but is being undercut by the fact he cannot keep the ball.

Odom played 19 games last season and, incredibly, turned the ball over in only nine of them. Removing a seven turnover aberration against EKU leaves him with 10 turnovers spread across 18 games. This season Odom has turned it over in five of Xavier’s six games. There is an early outlier again with six against Norfolk St. and therein lies the hope for Xavier fans. Removing that game leaves Dwon with five turnovers in five games. That’s still up from last season, but perhaps makes his struggles seem less pronounced.

Paul Scruggs is similarly struggling this season. His turnover rate of 24% is the highest of his career while his assist rate has dipped from 32% last year to 27.2% this year. The single game caveats are not there with Scruggs either, he’s simply turned the ball over a lot regardless of the game. That’s not to say there are no excusing factors though, as Paul has played two games while actively vomiting. One assumes this would impact productivity.

The rest of the team is similarly careless. Colby Jones has lowered his turnover rate, but still hovers near 20%. Ben Stanley has turned the ball over an almost impressive four times in 33 minutes. Nate Johnson, essentially a shooter, is turning the ball over at a career high rate. No player on the Musketeers has a turnover rate under 10%, no pure guard is under 20%.

So how can all this be fixed? First off, Xavier can slow down in transition. The Musketeers have taken 28% of their shots in transition and been excellent at the rim in those, but they have also consistently lost the ball in pushing. This bit them repeatedly when they tried to (puke and) rally against Iowa State. Paul Scruggs can frequently be seen imploring his younger teammates to run more efficiently or slow things down.

Secondly, Xavier can pinch the guards on offense. Bringing the wings closer means avoiding the flat pass across the top that seems to plague KyKy Tandy and Nate Johnson in particular. X did this with some effectiveness as part of their plan to slow the game against Virginia Tech, only to watch Jack Nunge undo some of that hard work with three turnovers. This comes as a give and take, as Xavier must then get penetration to get better looks from deep.

Finally, X just needs to quit doing stupid stuff. All the online yelling from the unwashed masses speaks to a frustration with watching the team try to force the ball into double teams, throw it straight out of bounds, dribble it off their feet, or just in general throw it to everyone but their teammates. Just stop doing that, guys. We’ll all be a lot happier.