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Xavier’s defense was much better last night

Offense hasn’t been the issue this season, but the defense has been miserable. That changed a bit last night.

NCAA Basketball: Southeastern Louisiana at Xavier
Dieonte Miles keyed Xavier’s defensive resurgence.
Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

First, the obvious caveat. Southeastern Louisiana is not a very good basketball team. The Lions have finished in the top 200 in KenPom five times in their history, none since 2018. This was not going to be a test for Xavier no matter what happened. A bad result here would have been winning by 20.

That said, this was finally a Xavier team that tried to play some defense. The raw numbers are impressive. SE Louisiana shot 36.2% from the floor, 24.1% in the deciding first half. In the first half the Lions were 0-7 behind the arc. They managed four second chance points in the entire game, just 20 points in the paint, and only 13 fast break points. The Musketeers blocked eight shots as well. Nothing came easy for David Kiefer’s team.

The advanced numbers are even better. Xavier’s lead was mathematically safe with ten minutes to play. The Musketeers held SEL to .78 points per possession, a 78.1 offensive efficiency, an effective field goal percentage of 42.2%, and turned them over on 22.8% of their possessions. Only two Lions had a positive offensive BPM. Despite missing 37 shots, SEL only managed six offensive rebounds. The Lions never led and the score was never tied after 0-0. It was a comprehensive defensive demonstration. A zipping up, one might say.

By the time SE Louisiana finally cracked 30 points with 11:40 to play (thanks to a tech on Coach Miller), the game was decided. In the last ten minutes the Lions scored 28, almost doubling their output to that point. Coach Miller didn’t seem upset, like because he didn’t expect Bradley Colbert to be a lockdown defender.

So what changed last night compared to some of the rather limp efforts that Xavier has made defensively so far? For starters, the competition. Holding Brody Rowbury in check is rather easier than stopping Drew Timme. Secondly, the defensive resurgence of Jack Nunge continued. Nunge blocked four shots and had a defensive BPM of 10.4.

The main point, though, was the personnel that Xavier got on the court. In DBPR, a stat used by Evan Miyakawa, (This rating incorporates a player’s individual efficiency stats and on-court play-by-play impact) Xavier’s best defensive players are Dieonte Miles, obviously, Kam Craft, Desmond Claude, and Jerome Hunter. All four of those players managed season highs in minutes last night. Miles, especially, makes an incredible difference in the middle of Xavier’s defense. He’s able to move well enough that he can guard his man, contest shots, and grab rebounds. In his 14 minutes he had time to collect more defensive rebounds than all three other players in the entire game.

Having that quad of players led by Miles available and in the game made a serious difference. Coach Miller wanted his team to play better defense and then used the players that make that possible. Can Dieonte Miles give the team 20 minutes a night? That will depend on how he plays offense. For one night, though, he led a defensive performance that finally made Xavier look like a team that can play on both ends.