Hello and welcome back, readers. It has been a while since we’ve done a set of the Xavier Power Rankings, and now that we’re about halfway through the Big East season, it seems like as good a time as any to update the table.
Just as a reminder, these rankings are based entirely on how hard a given player would be for Xavier to replace. It’s not a question of production so much as the specific things a player does and if Xavier has the personnel to approximate it if the player is absent because he has a big test to study for (or whatever). There’s a solid dose of subjectivity to go with objective measures from the usual sources (Bart Torvik, KenPom, hoop-math.com, Evan Miyakawa). Additionally, it’s a full-season measure with some recency bias. All that makes it sounds more scientific than it is; here we go.
9. Dieonte Miles
The numbers bear out what a dominant rim protector Dieonte is. Jack Nunge leads the team in blocks; he has played 474 minutes. Paul Scruggs (!) is second; he has played 629 minutes. Between them is Dieonte, boasting a block rate of 10.1% and having played just 152 minutes. Nobody on Xavier is close to swatting shots at the rate Dieonte does. Between the rotation naturally tightening for conference play and Zach Freemantle returning, Dieonte has been the odd man out in the frontcourt.
8. Jerome Hunter
Like Miles, Hunter has been something of a victim of the return of Zach Freemantle. His offensive struggles have been well documented - mostly on Xavier Twitter - and it’s not clear that he does enough in other regards to make up for it. His defensive versatility has a lot of value, but the Muskies held Creighton without a field goal for 11 minutes with him observing. He’s not been a hugely effective defensive rebounder in conference play, which is where Freemantle has come into his own.
7. Dwon Odom
I really want Dwon to be higher on this list. He’s a destructive perimeter defender and incredibly difficult to stop when he’s moving downhill (figuratively; all basketball courts at this level are literally flat). Unfortunately, he can’t shoot from more than about 12 feet from the basket and has been plagued by turnover issues that weren’t present in his freshman season. He has come on a bit in terms of productivity in limited minutes in the last two games; hopefully he’s turning a corner.
6. Zach Freemantle
It’s clear that Freemantle still has the trust of the coaching staff; he’s been a huge part of the game plan in conference play. His return on that faith has been spotty at times, but his energy and chippiness were key to Xavier’s huge comeback against Creighton. He’s finishing at almost 70% at the rim, but his jumper has gone awry for the moment. He was all over the offensive glass in Omaha and unstoppable on the post when Nunge pulled Kalkbrenner out of the paint. If he can play off of Nunge more effectively and hammer away on what he’s doing well, he’ll get back to a high level of production.
5. Adam Kunkel
Big Junk Kunk almost hopped into fourth here. He plays with a level of energy that elevates the entire team when he’s on the floor; in addition to that, he can score from all three levels, which makes him a valuable asset on a team that has struggled to score away from the rim. He’s also a pesky and underrated perimeter defender. He leads the team in TO% and has only coughed the ball up three times in Big East play.
4. Colby Jones
After being consistently excellent in the non-conference, Colby has hit an offensive wall in Big East play. This largely stems from his inability to score from inside the arc; he’s just 21-54 on two-point attempts in league games. He redeems that a bit by being Xavier’s best defensive rebounder and a consistent threat on the offensive glass. His defensive numbers remain strong as well; like the team as a whole, he has simply struggled to get the ball to go through the hoop despite being very, very close to it.
3. Paul Scruggs
By the metrics - our beloved metrics! - Paul is probably not the third-best player on the team. His shooting numbers are down across the board from a season ago, and he struggled with turnover issues in the early going. What he happens to be is the heart and soul of the team. Basketball is a game that’s more than the sum of things that can be quantified statistically, and Paul’s leadership elevates his contribution to the team in a way that nobody else on the roster can replicate. It also doesn’t hurt that his ball distribution and security numbers have popped back to where they were last year in Big East play.
2. Jack Nunge
What a stud this guy is. I can’t prove it in any meaningful way, but I feel like he leads the team in games in which fans have walked away feeling like he carried the team. Nate Watson and Ryan Kalkbrenner are two of the best big men in the league, and he completely sonned them both in back-to-back games last week. He went for 14 and 14 against OSU, ate UC’s front line alive, and has forced his way into the starting lineup. It’s also probably worth mentioning that he’s now shooting 38.5% from behind the arc in Big East play.
1. Nate Johnson
I am increasingly convinced that the difference between winning and losing for Xavier is in Nate Johnson’s three-point shooting. In Xavier’s losses, he’s 7-29 (24.1%) from behind the arc; in wins, he’s 41-85 (48.2%). You can parse out exactly where the chicken and the egg lie in those stats, but his ability to knock down outside shots gives Xavier’s offense a dimension it otherwise lacks. Couple that with his consistent ability to play tough perimeter defense - the team is 5.3 points per 100 possession better defensively with him on the floor; only Dieonte Miles has a better number in that category - and he’s the piece the team would have the most trouble replacing. When he’s struggling X looks like the first half against Creighton; when he’s going well, they look like the second half.