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Returning to play after a Covid break is easier for some than others

The long gaps in Xavier’s season have had a deleterious effect on some of their players.

NCAA Basketball: Marquette at Xavier
Maybe the layoff will earn this guy some playing time
Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

Xavier has waited for what seems like a long time to welcome a new/old addition to the Big East. UConn was never going to be an easy game, they are 42nd in the KenPom and and 3-3 in Quad 1/2 games, and now a long layoff before it will only serve to make things more difficult. Teams coming back from Covid breaks have struggled this year and, despite Xavier’s win after their last one, the Musketeers are no exception.

First off, the numbers you have heard before. Thanks to Evan Miyakawa we know that a team coming off a 14 day break has an additional 0.5 point disadvantage in a normal tempo game, a team coming off a 21 day break has a 2.3 point disadvantage, and a team coming off a 28 day break has a 4.0 point disadvantage. It’s no shock that taking a long break from doing something that requires rhythm and finesse does not make you better at it.

Clemson is, of course, the poster child for this. The Tigers were 18th in the nation in KenPom when they went on an 11 day forced hiatus. When they returned they lost three straight games by 35, 18, and 19 respectively. Since then they have rebounded a bit from their nadir at 61st in the KenPom rankings. Nebraska suffered a similar fate and hasn’t recovered. They are now plumbing the depths of the Big 10 at 0-8 in conference. Closer to home, Butler lost three straight after their longest Covid break. Returning to play from a break is hard on teams, especially those who can’t bring everyone back right away.

It is also hard on players. For Xavier that is most evident in the struggles of Zach Freemantle. When Freemantle started to get consistent time last season, he put up good numbers. Even as a freshman in one of the best conferences in the nation he was only out of double figures six times in conference play. This season Freemantle picked up a level above where he left off. Prior to Xavier’s first break he was averaging 18.7/8/.8. Since then Xavier has played two games in a week just twice and averaged 7.8 days between contests. Freemantle’s production has plummeted to 10.6/8.1/1.7 on a shooting line of .359/.176/.652. Throw in two turnovers per contest and it is clear that the time off is destroying the rhythm that Freemantle feeds on.

Jason Carter (.433/.154/.444) has also struggled to shoot the ball since Xavier returned from their first extended layoff. Paul Scruggs has enjoyed the rest, at least in terms of his shooting, and has shot the ball at a scalding 50% clip from the floor and 52.4% behind the arc. Nate Johnson has just kept being red hot all season long.

What does any of this mean? Likely that Xavier will struggle inside against UConn on Saturday. More importantly, it means that after another long break Xavier has the odds stacked against them both in terms of returning from the layoff and because it seems their best interior players crave the rhythm of a season that moves along without a hitch. Whatever happens at the Cintas on Saturday, Xavier has their work cut out for them moving forward.