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Xavier have (almost) stopped shooting themselves in the foot

The Muskies have almost started to allow themselves to be great.

NCAA Basketball: Creighton at Xavier
"What say we pass it only to our own guys?" "It's so crazy it just might work."
The Enquirer-USA TODAY Sports

Sometimes in sports, things can be frustrating to watch without being bad. Jose Mourinho's most successful teams or Rafael Betancourt's taking 45 seconds between pitches leap to mind as two examples that won't land with our target demographic. What will land is the perfect overlap between frustrating and bad that is ending a possession with a turnover in basketball.

Xavier was all over this in the non-conference schedule this year. Through those 11 games, they were turning the ball over on 20.8% of their offensive possessions, which is quite bad. They were 254th in the nation, which is a horrible mark for a high-major with tournament aspirations. There was little doubt among Xavier fans that this team would never reach its potential if it didn't stop tripping over its own feet.

Then conference play showed up and Xavier... simply stopped turning the ball over. After being ghastly in the non-con, they lead the Big East with a turnover rate of 12.3%. The Muskies went from turning it over more than once every 5 possessions to almost exactly once every 8. In a 70 possession game, that gives the Muskies an extra 6 possessions.

It also raises some questions, at least to me, so we'll tackle them in the order they hit my imagination.

First off, who on Xavier has tightened it up? Well, almost everyone. Dwon Odom was almost embarrassingly profligate with the ball in the non-conference; he's down to a much more manageable 21.5% TO rate in Big East games. Of the other primary balhandlers, Colby Jones has a very good 15.1% and Paul Scruggs has an incredible 11.7% turnover rate. Nate Johnson and Zach Freemantle are both just under 9%, and Adam Kunkel - with just 1 turnover in 102 minutes of Big East play this year - has an absurd 3%. That's comical for anyone, but all the more when you consider how consistently he has put the ball on the deck to attack.

This wholesale turnaround has me looking at the league in general, and wouldn't you know it, the Big East just doesn't force turnovers this year. In the non-con, only St. John's (27th) and UConn (41st) cracked the top 100 in defensive turnover rate. As a league, the Big East was 9th in non-conference play with a total defensive turnover rate of 19.8%.

As the individual teams that Xavier has played go, Nova (104th) and Butler (120th) slid into the top 120 at just above 20%, and Marquette was 130th at 19.9%. Creighton was 252nd in the nation at 17.6%. In 128 possessions against Nova, Xavier has a turnover rate of 14.8%. None of the other Big East opponents have gotten X over 12%.

As is always the case in college basketball, it has been partially a question of matchups and partially one of execution. As Xavier's turnover rate has dropped, their shooting has as well. They posted a 53.1% EFG% in non-conference, which was 65th in the country. In league play, they've got a 48.1% EFG%; over the course of the year, that would land them at 246th, which is awful.

The glass-half-full outlook here is that Xavier is capable of both protecting the ball and shooting well, and once they do them at the same time they'll be unstoppable. Those more inclined to negativity might see an unsustainable spike in ball security propping up a sputtering offense. Your outlook on what's to come depends very much on which approach you choose to adopt.