Xavier Basketball: Defense, Opposing 3-Pointers Slowing Musketeers Down

Tyler GroteCorrespondent IIFebruary 10, 2014

Feb 8, 2014; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Xavier Musketeers head coach Chris Mack argues a call during the second half against the Providence Friars at the Cintas Center. Xavier defeated Providence 59-53. Mandatory Credit: Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports
Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

After dropping three straight games in an early season tournament, Xavier responded with eight consecutive wins, and a tournament berth seemed more than likely. But after another three-game losing skid, which came during a seven-game stretch that has produced just three Xavier wins, Xavier finds itself teetering on the edge of bubble land.

The losses have come on the heels of uncharacteristically poor play by the Musketeers. There’ve been woes on both sides of the ball. During the eight-game winning streak, the Musketeers averaged 74 points a game.  In the last four games, Xavier has averaged just above 62 and has won once in that frame.

Defensively, it's not much better. While the Musketeers allowed just over 64 points per game during the eight-game winning streak, the team has allowed over 74 in its last seven contests. That's 10 more points per game that Xavier opponents are averaging now compared to the eight-game winning streak.

The recent run of poor play has been the result of several things. While there's no question that Semaj Christon, Matt Stainbrook and Justin Martin have been consistent contributors, it's the fickleness of other key bench players that has been apparent in the recent string of bad basketball.

For example, James Farr was contributing over eight points per game during the eight-game winning streak, but that was back when he was playing over 15 minutes per game. In the past seven games, he's averaged about 3.5 points per game while clocking in only 12.7 minutes.

Where is James Farr?
Where is James Farr?Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

This is Xavier's highest three-point shooting percentage (45 percent), and he's averaging below two three-point tries per game in the last seven. He hasn't posted double-digit points since January 9th, when Xavier beat Marquette.

Turnovers have really plagued the Musketeers of late. Junior Dee Davis has suffered the most with this. In Xavier's eight-game winning streak, Davis averaged about 1.75 turnovers per game. In Xavier's last seven games, he's averaged about 2.3 turnovers.

Dee Davis has struggled during this turbulent stretch.
Dee Davis has struggled during this turbulent stretch.Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

The increase in turnovers has been accompanied by a decrease in production. In the eight-game winning streak, Davis was dropping about 9.25 points per game. In the last seven games, he's down to just 6.8.

If we narrow Davis' scope to just the last five games, he's averaging 3.4 points. This is a starting junior guard.

Stainbrook is an unquestioned contributor and vocal leader of this team. But buried in this recent seven-game roller coaster is an ominous trend that witnesses the big man giving the ball to the other team at a higher rate. During the eight-game winning streak, Stainbrook would average about 1.75 turnovers per game. In the last seven games, he's up to about 2.5.

Then there's of course Christon, who is the staple contributor of this Xavier team. He's scoring at an impressive rate and making weekly Big East honors a birthright. But he's struggling with turnovers right now, too. During Xavier's eight-game winning streak, Semaj averaged just one turnover a game. He's averaging 2.5 in Xavier's last seven contests.

Can we attribute this more to the rigorous Big East schedule, or are these flaws becoming tangible holes in a team most Xavier fans considered to be one of the deepest teams Chris Mack has had to date? Why are guys turning the ball over more, and why is Xavier scoring less?

In Big East competition, according to Kenpom.com (subscription required), there are just two teams shooting worse than Xavier is from the three-point line. 

This of course limits the Musketeers' ability to stretch the defense out, resulting in clogged lanes and more turnovers due to heavy congestion. This hurtful trend hasn't come without some positives. According to Kenpom, Xavier is No. 1 in the Big East in free-throw rate (FTR), which calculates how efficient teams are at getting to the line. 

Christon is also averaging more turnovers of late.
Christon is also averaging more turnovers of late.Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

Kenpom also has Xavier as the third-most efficient offense (OE) in conference, behind Creighton and Villanova. Xavier would probably be third in effective field-goal rate (eFG), but its poor three-point shooting keeps the team at No. 4, behind Creighton, Villanova and Seton Hall.

Defensively, it's a nightmare. Just two teams in conference play have a worse defensive efficiency (DE, another Kenpom metric) than Xavier (DePaul, Butler). To compound this ominous trend, there is no team in the Big East that allows threes at a higher percentage than Xavier. 

The outlook moving forward? Kenpom's algorithm suggests a bumpy finish for the Musketeers. Currently, his probabilities illustrate Xavier losing five of its remaining eight games, which would put the Musketeers at 20-11 (10-8). 

This would of course have Xavier floating into Selection Sunday on a slippery, volatile bubble. This team does have the offense to secure a seed this March, but for the Musketeers to prove these probabilities inaccurate, the team will need to clean up its turnovers and limit the damage raining in from behind the arc.