What is Xavier’s Ceiling Without Myles Davis?

Posted by Mike Knapp on January 29th, 2017

Xavier, loser of four of its last five games, finds itself reeling after its Crosstown Shootout defeat to Cincinnati on Thursday night. The Musketeers now stand at 14-6 (4-3, fifth in the Big East) and have already lost as many games as all of last year. In a lot of ways, Xavier’s shaky play is not surprising. Having lost their two best big men from last season (Jalen Reynolds and James Farr), a certain level of drop-off was reasonable. What Chris Mack did not plan for, however, was the major hit his backcourt took when senior guard Myles Davis announced he would be stepping away from the program. After a two-month suspension to start the season, Davis only played three games before announcing his abrupt departure. It is clear that the Musketeers are still clearly missing their primary playmaker.

Myles Davis (USA Today Images)

As a junior, Davis was one of the more under-appreciated distributors in college basketball. He boasted a solid 24.6 percent assist rate and was great at keeping the ball moving in an offense that relied heavily on precision passing on the perimeter to find open shooters. Davis also led the Musketeers in assists – averaging more than four per game – but he was so valuable because of his ability to see one pass ahead in the hockey-assist style (the pass leading to the assist). Per Hoop Lens, Xavier averaged a robust 1.13 points per possession with Davis on the floor last season, best on the team. When he was off the court, Xavier’s resulting drop of 0.18 points per possession was noticeable. More data: The Musketeers’ effective field goal percentage was almost seven points higher with its top play-maker on the court, as much as a result of his scoring in addition to his passing — Davis ranked second on the team in both three-point percentage and threes made last season.

Xavier is struggling this season in basically every area where Davis excels. The Musketeers currently rank second to last in the Big East in three-point percentage at just 31.9 percent (compared to 36.3 percent last season), and could use Davis’ shooting and passing to find better looks on the perimeter. Trevon Bluiett, Edmond Sumner and JP Macura have all stepped up to replace the loss of their teammate (they are all averaging more than 14.0 PPG), but their efficiency numbers are all down and all the good early shot clocks looks they were getting last year have disappeared. The Musketeers currently rank 139th nationally in adjusted tempo, per KenPom, compared with 35th in the same category a season ago. Without Davis, Mack’s team is far too reliant on isolation drives to the basket late in the shot clock.

Put simply, Xavier looks completely lost. Their only Big East victories thus far have come against bottom-feeders, and they have relied on raw talent alone to stay competitive against better opponents. And while that natural ability may be enough to keep them in the mix for an NCAA Tournament berth in six weeks, they will not advance very far without someone stepping up as a more reliable playmaker. Sumner is the only legitimate distributor right now, ranking 86th nationally in assist rate, but look for freshman Quentin Goodin to earn more minutes as the Musketeers move through conference play. The 6’4” guard is second on the team in assists per 40 minutes, and the team’s effective field goal percentage jumps by a percentage point when he is on the floor. He may not be ready to regularly lead Xavier’s offense, but Mack desperately needs someone to plug the gaping hole left by Davis’ departure.

Mike Knapp (8 Posts)

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