Throughout this season we have looked back at last season. Last season, the one in which Xavier was ok right up until they weren’t. Last season, when coming into February Xavier looked like a lock and when entering March they needed a miracle (or at least not to lose to Butler). The computer numbers loved Xavier until the wheels just utterly fell off.
The computer numbers still look something the same. Last season on Feb 8th, X was 20th in the NET and 27th on KenPom. Not world beating, but comfortable. This season they are 25th and 22nd. Not world beating, but comfortable. Last season the fall was as precipitous as it was unexpected. Xavier played one of their best games of the season to beat UConn, then played three of their worst games of the season over the next five. (Xavier’s four best conference games were the three before the swoon and the Georgetown game after it. It was a weird stretch).
The numbers may be the same, but things feel drastically different this year. For one, Xavier was 7-6 in the Big East this time last season, they lead it at 11-2 this season. The other thing is something called Strength of Record. SOR is what you might call a resume. Per ESPN, who spearheaded the metric, “Strength of Record measures the difficulty of achieving each team’s record, given its schedule; therefore, an obvious, but important element to a team’s Strength of Record is the difficulty of each game played.”
This season, Xavier is 7th in SOR. Last season, before the NIT, X bottomed out at 60th. Those measures obviously aren’t completely analogous, but even a five game skid wouldn’t drop Xavier to 60th this season. That skid is less likely this season, though, for a couple of major reasons.
Last season, Xavier’s point guard options were Paul Scruggs and Dwon Odom. Both were good players, but both had exploitable flaws in their game. For starters, Scruggs was having the worst shooting season of his career. Odom wasn’t, but his effective range essentially ended at the free throw line. Those issues caused defenses to collapse and resulted in a point guard turnover rate over 23%.
Souley Boum isn’t an elite shooter by any stretch, but he’s good enough that defense have to respect him. He also combines Odom’s quickness with his own willingness to get to the rim. That gets him to the line, where he very much is elite. Boum also plays basically every meaningful minute of every game. His shooting, free throw shooting, and durability all make him a weapon. What makes him stand out is that he turns the ball over at only a 13 % rate. That’s beyond elite. Boum has had a game with 41 minutes and one turnover and 39 minutes and no turnovers. That’s freakish.
Xavier’s point men last year were nice players. Xavier’s point guard this year is an elite player who can control the game for long stretches and kill it when it matters.
This is a weird thing to say for a team that goes seven deep, but Xavier’s depth is better this season. Desmond Claude and Jerome Hunter have both come off the bench and been very effective all season. Hunter is 96th in the nation in offensive efficiency and just clamped down Providence’s main scoring threat. Des Claude’s numbers aren’t superficially good for the year, but in conference play his offensive efficiency is 104.1 over 13 games and his turnover rate is an excellent 15.8%. The starting five are, obviously, very good.
Last season at this point Jerome Hunter was, honestly, awful, and Cesare Edwards and Dieonte Miles were playing significant minutes. Neither of them have gone on to demonstrate that they merit Big East time. This season, they haven’t had to provide it.
Xavier’s defense will be what ends their season early, but this offense will provide some serious highlights before that. The ball moves, X is second in the nation in assists to field goals made. The ball goes in the hoop, X is eighth in the nation in effective field goal percentage. The shots aren’t f***ed up, Xavier is 330th in the nation in three point attempts.
Last season’s team wasn’t going to drop 96 on St. John’s. It took them three overtimes to score 92 at Providence. In the game that ended the swoon, against St. John’s, ironically enough, they needed 75 possessions to score 66 points. That’s the difference between being a very good 37th in the nation in offense and being fifth in the nation in offense. There’s enough here to make you wonder if Xavier can just rip off six 97-90 wins.
Last year Xavier came so close to making the tournament. Prior to a shocking collapse in mid-February, they were a lock. This season they are sitting pretty again, but thanks to Souley Boum, better depth, and an offense that rarely sputters, they look set to make the NCAA tournament once again filled with the very best kind of tension. If you want to hear us talk about why this team looks good right now, just click below.