First, the good news: Xavier is undefeated. After three games, the best possible outcome is three wins. Buy games are just as much about process as results though, and the way the Muskies have gotten to those wins hasn’t always been pretty. There are tougher tests ahead than the nominal resistance provided by Morgan State, Montana, and Fairfield, and it’s not clear from the product so far that X is prepared for them. Here are the top three things that are keeping me up at night, or at least would be if I invested that much of my self-image in the performance of 18-22-year-olds in basketball.
Through three games, Xavier’s TO rates per game have been 23%, 13.9%, and 24.6%. Those are bad, especially against teams that Xavier should be romping past. A generous reading of the evidence would be that X has been a little sloppy because they knew they’d roll overmatched opposition. A cynic might just see Xavier as a team that can’t hold onto the ball.
We identified the lack of a pure point as a potential problem for Xavier before the season, but Souley Boum has been adequate in ball security with an 18.3% TO rate. Unfortunately, the rest of the team has been rife with turnover issues. Des Claude managed 0 TO against Montana, but he coughed it up 4 times in the opener and another 3 against Fairfield. Not ideal for the backup 1. Zach Freemantle, Kam Craft, and Jerome Hunter have all been susceptible to the turnover bug; as a team, Xavier is 240th in the nation in offensive TO%. That’s bad. Boum, Colby Jones, Kyky Tandy, and Adam Kunkel have all proven to be above average in ball security. It’s the lack of sure hands elsewhere on the floor that is really hampering X.
These two kind of go hand in hand. Xavier is actually comfortably in the top 100 in bench minutes, but it has sure felt like the rotation is tight for how early in the year it is. Cesare Edwards has been getting walk-on minutes, Elijah Tucker is somehow getting less, and even Dieonte Miles has been as invisible as someone seven feet tall can be. Coach Miller clearly has about 8 guys he trusts, and he rides them in winning time.
Part of this comes down to fouls. Perhaps most concerningly, Jerome Hunter is averaging 13.3 fouls per 40 minutes. 13.3! He has swatted shots, been a dog on the glass at both ends, and is posting the best ORtg of his career so far, but he barely sees the court because he’s a walking bonus for the other team. Cesare Edwards is averaging 16 fouls per 40 in his short time, Des Claude is at 5.4, and Tandy and D Miles are both over 4. On the other end, Freemantle, Nunge, Boum, and Jones are all around 2 per 40 and Kunkel is at 3.3, which is kind of on the high end of acceptable.
More concerningly, these numbers are all being posted against weaker opponents who should be easier to keep in front without grabbing. If the bottom half of the rotation can’t figure out a way to play without gifting the other team free throws, we’re going to end up watching Jack Nunge get those Ben Bentil minutes at 7’0”, 245. Get those electrolytes in, big man!
Despite often having the two biggest dudes on the floor, Xavier is somehow below average on the defensive glass. Specifically, they’re 230th in the country in DReb%. They’re actually forcing a decent amount of turnovers - which is a fun departure from recent years - and forcing bad shots, but when those come off the rim, they’re not shutting down second chances. You can get away with that against bad teams; good teams will make you pay.
Again, things could be a lot worse. We could be Louisville fans, for instance. Someone in our mentions on Twitter mentioned that we shouldn’t be expecting the team to be playing its best ball in November, which is a valid bit of feedback. It also ignores the fact that recent iterations of Xavier definitely played their best ball in November. There’s room for improvement and hopefully we’ll look back in a couple of months on these things and share a laugh. In the meantime, the door is certainly open for Indiana to come into Cintas and punch X in the mouth if they don’t get some of this sorted quick.