One of the interesting things about a long and grueling conference season is the subtle changes that teams undergo, both good and bad. For a Xavier team that remains in solid position for a top-two Big East finish and a top-three seed in the NCAA Tournament, an issue may be developing. Despite a 9-2 record since losing at Villanova, Xavier has been trending down in efficiency metrics (with both KenPom and others). Defense is the main culprit, specifically on the interior. Wins against St. John’s and Marquette were much closer than they should have been and Chris Mack’s team followed those up with a disappointing loss at Creighton, a game in which it was blitzed from the opening tip. The Musketeers have allowed six of its last seven opponents to shoot better than 50 percent from two-point range. What’s shocking is this had only happened six times in the preceding 23 games. While the better competition in Big East play is certainly a factor, the trend is undoubtedly still alarming. It’s no coincidence that the three teams to beat Xavier have all shot better than 60 percent from inside the arc. Given the makeup of this Musketeers team, the porous interior defending is especially surprising.
Xavier not only has one of the better frontcourts in the nation, but it also has a stockpile of guards and wings with length and athleticism. Mack’s 1-3-1 zone has been incredibly disruptive at times this season, particularly in limiting penetration by the opponent. Given all this, it’s hard to decipher the exact problem for the X-men, but they would be wise to find a way to stop this trend. It will be notable if the poor defending continues down the stretch, as this team is faced with a brutal late February schedule. The Musketeers have been a complete team on both ends of the floor for most of this season and have a legitimate chance to make a deep NCAA Tournament run. It would be a shame if porous interior defense derails this dream season. Read the rest of this entry »