The Xavier Musketeers turn the ball over too much. Through 12 games this season they have thrown it out of bounds or to the wrong team 170 times. Paul Scruggs leads the way with 38, only 14 off last year’s total, but everyone has been culpable. The team turnover rate is 19.9%, good for 218th in the nation. It’s an epidemic of careless play and it is crippling the team.
Only, it isn’t. Xavier is also 11-1. Excluding the flu games, they have been in four games decided by less than ten points. In three of those, they have turned the ball over less frequently than they do on average. In the fourth, Oklahoma State, they overcame their turnover affliction by getting to the line 15 times more than their opponent.
So the Musketeers are both turning the ball over way too much and not turning the ball over so much that it is costing them games. They are somehow wasting almost 20% of their possessions and yet not really even playing in close games because of it. Against Marquette, a team that thrives on getting offenses out of sync, Xavier turned the ball over at their lowest rate of the season. Against Ball St, no one’s definition of a ball hawking defense, the Musketeers threw it away 22% of the time... and won by 46.
And therein lies, perhaps, the key to Xavier’s turnover problems. Against three of the five toughest teams X has played so far (Marquette, UC, and Ohio State), they have limited turnovers. In those three games the rates have been 10.6%, 13.7%, and 16%. All of those numbers are all excellent. Oklahoma State and Virginia Tech are outliers to that trend, but it hardly seems fair to consider a game in which most players were also struggling to hold on to the contents of their stomachs.
Conversely, against some of the worst teams Xavier has played the turnover rates have been alarming. Kent State is 160th in the KenPom and X turned the ball over on 25.3% of their possessions against the Golden Flashes. KSU has only bested that number against ETSU and Oberlin. Ball State caused the problems mentioned above. #262 Norfolk State forced Xavier into turnovers on 22.1% of possessions as well and even an absolutely dreadful Central Michigan team, one of the worst turnover forcing teams in the nation, saw X cough the ball up 21% of the time.
But wait, there’s more. None of Marquette, Ohio State, or UC really focus on turning teams over. While Xavier’s ball security against them was excellent, it wasn’t entirely unexpected. Against Ok St, a team that does try to force turnovers, Xavier turned the ball over in abundance. The same goes for Virginia Tech, where only the brilliance of Nate Johnson overcame a 22.6% turnover rate.
The data just isn’t all there to determine exactly how bad Xavier’s turnover problem really is. On the surface the numbers are bad. A 19.9% turnover rate does not Big East champions make. On the other hand, Xavier has been much better against high level competition. But that high level competition hasn’t tried to force turnovers. As Xavier enters conference play, ball security will be worth watching, but how it will impact the Musketeers in big games remains to be seen.