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The nation’s best three point shooting team is Xavier

How on earth did this happen?

NCAA Basketball: Xavier at Connecticut David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Last season, Xavier finished the year shooting 32.2% behind the arc. That was good for 250th in the nation. The word “good” is doing some heavy lifting there, because 32.2% is not actually good. In fact, it’s terrible. On 19 occasions the Musketeers shot less than 30% on their three point attempts, in 10 games they didn’t even make 25%. All of that adds up to an awful season shooting the ball. That the offense somehow still managed to finish 37th in the nation is something of a miracle.

This season is a complete 180. Xavier is shooting the three pointer better than anyone else in the nation. They have shot 30% or under four times and and under 25% just once. They have made 50% or more of their three pointers in seven games. For the season they are making 40.4%. When Sean Bairstow missed as Utah State’s frenetic comeback fell short, Xavier passed the Aggies as the best three point shooting team in the nation.*

How has Xavier made such a big change in such a short time? The personnel remains roughly the same. Paul Scruggs and Dwon Odom are gone, replaced mostly by Souley Boum. Nate Johnson, a reliable shooter, has also moved on. Des Claude has taken most of his time. After that, the names remain the same but the results do not. Adam Kunkel, Jack Nunge, Zach Freemantle, and Colby Jones are all shooting the ball significantly better this season.

There are three reasons for that. The most simple, and the one we will spend the least time on, is that Souley Boum is a better shooter than Paul Scruggs. In his last two seasons at Xavier Scruggs’ shooting really fell off and he made 32.5% and 30.7% of his three point attempts. Boum’s last two seasons have been 37.4% and 41.8%. He just makes more (and takes more) threes.

Xavier has also taken fewer three pointers this season. Last year the Musketeers didn’t shoot a lot. They were 233rd in the nation by taking 35.6% of their shots from deep. This season those numbers have dipped even farther to 329th and 30.3%. Xavier prioritized getting the ball inside last season, they have a full blown obsession with it now. This has led to a lot more time with the ball in the paint and shooters outside looking for their chance. This brings us to point number three, the big one,

Xavier is taking a much, much lower amount of dribble threes this season. Last year 81.4% of Xavier’s made three pointers came off a pass. Paul Scruggs made only 61.3% of his off a pass. Adam Kunkel (74.1%) and Jerome Hunter (78.6%) were also primary offenders in dribbling into three pointers. The chart below shows the difference between this season and last.

Player 21-22 22-23 Difference
Boum/Scruggs 61.30% 84.80% 23.50%
Adam Kunkel 74.10% 94.60% 20.50%
Colby Jones 95.20% 84.40% -10.80%
Jack Nunge 94.30% 96.70% 2.40%
Jerome Hunter 78.10% 100% 22%
Zach Freemantle 100% 100% 0%
Johnson/Claude 82.60% 100% 17%
Team 81.40% 90.70% 9.30%

The uptick in assisted threes is pretty obvious. Only Colby Jones has dribbled into more threes this season than he did last. Xavier’s point and shooting guards are finding more looks off the pass than off the dribble this season as well. This year, 90.7% of Xavier’s made threes come off a pass. That increase is significant.

Last year, 55.9% of Xavier’s made buckets came off a pass. This season that number is up to 67.7% and up from 60th in the nation to second. Coach Sean Miller said that he spent a lot of his time off working on offense. Prior to this season, he had a reputation of a coach whose teams could play good offense but would have truly frightening defenses. (Xavier’s defense this year is frightening, I guess.)

This season, Xavier is full of offensive wrinkles and schemes designed to get good looks. By looking inside first and then focusing on rotation when the ball comes back out, the Musketeers are taking fewer threes but making a much higher percentage. That shows in the individual numbers, where almost every position has seen an uptick in assisted three pointers.

It is, quite simply, a lot easier to shoot from a catch and release when no one is near you. So long as Xavier’s shooters keep getting that opportunity, they’ll keep knocking down shots. The Musketeers are the best three point shooting team in the nation. It almost boggles the mind.

*In DI games. When you throw in Utah State’s game against Westminster, they jump to 41.8% and retake the lead.