The next non-conference game Xavier plays will, hopefully, be in the NCAA tournament. The Musketeers dispatched Morehead State last night to finish at 10-1 heading into Big East play. Marquette looms on Saturday and marks the end of buy games, cupcakes, and a never ending stream of home games. The season starts its long grind toward March now.
Turnovers are a problem
It won’t be against the likes of Morehead State, Niagara, or Cincinnati, but Xavier is going to lose a game because of the lack of ball security. A 21% rate against a team that makes no particular effort to turn opponents over speaks to sloppiness. Most alarmingly, it’s Xavier’s primary ballhandlers, Paul Scruggs and Dwon Odom, that lead the turnover parade. Both are turning the ball over way too much with Odom’s 32% verging on the absurd.
Scoring is not a problem
Everyone other than Paul Scruggs had an offensive efficiency over 100 last night. Xavier scored 1.21 points per possession without ever truly looking troubled. Four guys were in double figures and four more had six, seven, eight, and nine. Xavier’s offense is 30th in the nation with all of the remaining preseason bias washed out. That’s good enough to be a genuine contender.
Defense is not a problem
In that same measure, Xavier’s defense is 19th nationally. Against Morehead State they held the Eagles to 43% inside the arc and .89 points per possession. That wins games. Had the Musketeers not allowed 12 fast break points from their bizarre insistence on throwing the ball to the wrong team, that number would look even better.
Johni Broome is a problem
What this guy is doing at Morehead is beyond me. He went for 20/12/1 with two blocks and three steals in what will be the Eagles toughest game of the year. Xavier has excellent defensive bigs and Broome was still able to get his game going. Hopefully he was treating this game as recruiting visit.
The three point shooting has stabilized
(Sorry this doesn’t follow my “problem” theme). Since the Iowa St game, the undoubted nadir of Xavier’s shooting, the Musketeers have taken 131 threes and made 42.7% of them. Those six games now comprise more than half of Xavier’s season. Nate Johnson (46.3%) and Adam Kunkel (37%) are carrying the majority of the shooting load in that time, but Colby Jones (37.5%) and Paul Scruggs (33%) are both shooting acceptably in fewer attempts. Jerome Hunter has also made five of his last 14.
Xavier enters conference play on a tear. Most of the chatter about the coach has died down like it usually does when the team starts winning. The resume looks about as solid as you could possibly ask after a first 11 games filled with tests, and Xavier is just about back healthy. The Musketeers hit Big East play in the best shape they’ve been in for the last four years. Now comes the time to see if they can carry it through and become a genuine second weekend contender.