Xavier’s Revamped Offense Starts in the Paint

Posted by Justin Kundrat on December 6th, 2017

Anyone who is familiar with Xavier teams of recent years knows that Chris Mack‘s most frequently employed lineup features four perimeter players running a drive-and-dish philosophy that emphasizes excellent spacing. Given that the Musketeers typically have several shooters on the floor at any given time, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that the Musketeers are connecting on 39.1 percent of their perimeter shots (53rd nationally) this season. But the driver of the nation’s third most efficient offense isn’t the offensive rebounding acumen that has buoyed Mack’s last few groups; rather, this year’s team has taken a remarkable leap in its interior scoring. For the purposes of this article and particularly when applying it to Xavier’s four-out offense, interior scoring refers to shots at the rim in the half-court offense in addition to shots in the paint and transition-generated inside scoring. For a team that many figured would seek to replicate last year’s offensive scheme, there have been quite a few notable changes driving this season’s jump in efficiency.

Two. As in more than one way to win for Chris Mack and Xavier. (Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports)

For one, the introduction of graduate transfer Kerem Kanter has given the Musketeers a legitimate low post scoring threat, something that was often lacking a year ago. While the 6’10” forward might sometimes be a defensive liability, he is connecting on a whopping 85 percent of his shots at the rim and is drawing the most per-minute fouls on the team.

Combining Kanter’s skilled footwork and post moves with the ever-efficient finishing prowess of 6’9″ Tyrique Jones results in a Xavier squad that has experienced one of the biggest year-over-year improvements in scoring at the rim of any team in college basketball.

Not only is Xavier finishing more effectively at the rim, but Mack’s emphasis on establishing low post scoring and generating high percentage shots is evident. Moreover, when combining the interior focus around Kanter post-ups and aggressive slashing within the four-out offense, defenses are forced to leave themselves exposed in one-on-one situations or risk sending a help defender at the expense of leaving a perimeter shooter open.

Per the above chart, Xavier is currently attempting 51.1 percent of its shots around the rim, a staggering increase from the last two seasons. This isn’t only attributable to the addition of Kanter or the increased usage of Jones; all three backcourt starters — Trevon BluiettJP Macura, and Quentin Goodin — have similarly increased their attempts at the rim. Accordingly, the team’s free throw rate is at its highest point since 2002, the first year of data available in the KenPom database. On the other hand, playing a perimeter-oriented offense often means having a plethora of wings that are capable of running the floor. So it is somewhat surprising that the team’s transition tendency remained flat following the 2014-15 season when Mack began to deviate from his “two-big” lineup. This season, though, with sophomore Quentin Goodin running the point, the team is running its offense at a significantly higher pace:

While still somewhat turnover prone, the 6’4″ guard is posting an unheralded 6.4 assists per game (24th nationally), which at its current rate would be the highest of any Xavier player since Jamal Walker in 1989. Consistent with the above, Goodin is garnering a larger percentage of his assists in transition or at the rim compared with last season while simultaneously improving his own shooting percentages. So it goes without saying, that, on the heels of more scoring around the rim and in transition, the Musketeers are currently sporting a 7-1 record with two wins over Top 25 teams. Given we are just a third of the way through this campaign, though, the season-defining question is how sustainable it will be come Big East play.

Justin Kundrat (166 Posts)

Villanova grad, patiently waiting another 10 years for season tickets. Follow Justin on twitter @JustinKundrat or email him at justin.kundrat@gmail.com

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