Let’s start this off with the good news: Xavier isn’t in anything even vaguely resembling bubble trouble for the NCAA tournament. If Selection Sunday had been yesterday, the Musketeers would have been a lock and we would all be talking about a tough 6/11 or 7/10 matchup right now. X is in. It’s not close. That could change, obviously, but right now there is no reason to even peak at the bubble.
But my goodness is Xavier making heavy weather of it right now. Quick show of internet hands, who enjoyed watching the Musketeers play last week? The game against Butler was never in doubt, but it certainly wasn’t a dominant performance. X shot a reasonable 17 three pointers but made a completely unreasonable three of them. Thankfully, Zach Freemantle was immense and Xavier ground out one of those conference wins that you get sometimes.
With a chance to get right against a decent DePaul team on Saturday, Xavier instead elected to not play for the first 15 minutes. In that span Xavier scored 15 points and looked like a team that had forgotten about the Saturday tip. The blaming of the coach has reached absurd levels when most of the time it’s shooting that torpedoes X. This time, believers in both theories could be enraged at being correct as no player could connect and the coaching staff seemed utterly perplexed as to what to do. Thankfully they fixed it coming out of the half... then promptly watch Paul Scruggs immolate and the team be unable to shoot even 50% inside the paint.
There are a lot of angry fans out there. (There are also a lot who don’t understand basketball.) While that’s generally a hard group to relate to, it’s becoming more and more difficult to begrudge them their anger at this point. The overall metrics still say Xavier is a good team and, based on overall resume, they are. They aren’t playing well right now, though. The team isn’t fun to watch, isn’t executing on offense, and doesn’t look terribly good on defense. The shooters aren’t shooting, the bigs struggle to play together, and the coaches have yet to sort out an effective lineup.
Since conference play started the Musketeers are 6-5. In that time they have been the 47th best offense and 101st ranked defense. Overall, their efficiency is 70th. There is no argument that the team is struggling right now. It’s incumbent on the coaches to figure out how to fix it. Does X need to get Dieonte Miles back into the rotation? In Zach Freemantle’s 26 minutes per game he’s averaging 9.9/5.2/1.3, but his shooting is the worst of his career and his offensive efficiency is only 101.7.
And how to fix Nate Johnson? A guy who is unquestionably an excellent shooter is obviously bereft of confidence and in the worst slump of his career by some margin. When Xavier was winning a Q1 road game just nine short days ago, Johnson was 5-7. He has since missed every three he has taken. Adam Kunkel, Xavier’s other three point threat, is one for his last 11. Colby Jones, picked by many to be a breakout star, has rebounded like a maniac but has regressed shooting (though not in overall offensive efficiency) everywhere this year.
The Musketeers are staggering in early February. That hasn’t come close to costing them an NCAA bid yet, but the signs aren’t encouraging. There are plenty of games left, plenty of time for a season’s course to still be written. Whether that is a positive or a negative is likely in the eye of the beholder.