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Paul Scruggs isn’t walking through that door

The answer to Xavier’s woes right now might not be as simple as it seems.

NCAA Basketball: Butler at Xavier
“Lemme get that back next month.”
Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

I was going to act like everyone knows what the title is referring to, but Rick Pitino’s “...not walking through that door” rant was 21 years ago next week. For context, Pitino was the coach of the Celtics at the time and they were not doing well. When asked about why fans should continue to be enthusiastic about a team that wasn’t living up to the standards set by the legends who came before, Rick Pitino basically told him to blow it out his shorts, because those dudes aren’t coming to the rescue and it’s time to get on board with what’s right in front of them:

Fast forward my entire adult life - which is now kind of a lot of years - and you have the present day. After starting the season hotter than a two-dollar pistol, Xavier has come crashing back to earth thanks at least in part to a series of pauses enforced by the coronavirus pandemic. Having been 8-0 and sporting a solid WAB number - and carrying a season-defining win over Oklahoma - X has staggered to a 4-4 record in 8 games spread over 2 months.

The team needs a leader to help right the ship. Enter Paul Scruggs?

On its face, it makes sense. Scruggs is the only four-year guy on the team, a team captain, the team’s leading assist man and its second leading scorer. He has spent a ton of time with the ball in his hands this year, often bringing it up to initiate the offense and currently sitting second on the team in usage rate.

Unfortunately, Xavier needs a boost in February, and February has traditionally (for whatever reason) been a brutal month for Scruggs. Paul Scruggs has played 113 games in his career. In his 24 February games, he has averaged 7.3/3.3/3.1 on an EFG% of 49.0%; in the 89 other games, he has posted a game line of 11.2/3.9/3.2 and an EFG% of 53.9%.

The difference between February Scruggs and Normal Scruggs is almost 4 PPG while trading the shooting of a senior Trevon Bluiett for that of a sophomore Quentin Goodin.

Of course, this is all descriptive rather than prescriptive. Other than shooting just 33% inside the arc in February rather than the 55% he posts in all other months, there’s not a lot in the numbers to explain Paul’s career doldrums at this time of year. There’s also nothing saying that he can’t go like 9-11 from inside the arc tomorrow against Providence, look like his best self the whole game, and lead Xavier to a key road win.

Maybe it’s as simple as the fact that February is indisputably the worst month of the year and Paul feels that a little bit.

KenPom has every one of Xavier’s final four games being determined by just a single possession. The fine margins are going to be what determines the difference between a first-round bye in the Big East tournament with a comfortable berth in the NCAA tournament and playing an extra game before sweating out Selection Sunday. Paul Scruggs has never been at his best in February, but Xavier needs him to be if they want to make something out of March.