Highlighting the Changes that Revived Xavier’s Lost Season

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 10th, 2017

Staring into the abyss of a lost season appears to have sent a message bleak enough to stir Xavier. The problems were numerous: the loss of star point guard Edmond Sumner, inconsistent contributions from interior players, a confused defensive identity, and an increasingly frustrated fan base. Riding a six-game losing streak into this week’s Big East Tournament put Chris Mack’s group dangerously close to the NCAA Tournament cut line, all but demanding an immediate and drastic turnaround if the season was to be saved. While a reversion to its earlier form remains somewhat unlikely, three strong performances (the latest coming in a momentous defeat of #2 seed Butler on Thursday night) have offered glimpses of a team not yet ready to end its season. Perhaps the most confidence-inspiring aspect of the three-game role reversal is that it isn’t attributable to streaky hot shooting performances. Instead, Xavier’s strong play has resulted from three areas: a renewed focus on attacking the paint, more frequent defensive switching, and the improved play of graduate transfer Malcolm Bernard.

Xavier Has Started Looking Like Xavier Again (USA Today Images)

The injury to Sumner has already been discussed at length, and the result, aside from the obvious loss of a key playmaker, has been a reduction in high efficiency shots around the rim. As the below table shows, the 6’6″ guard led the team in shot creation opportunities in the paint, taking a whopping 54 percent of his shots at the rim.

 

In Sumner’s absence, Xavier’s tendencies have, quite understandably, drifted toward the preferred scoring methods of Bluiett and Macura: jump shots. The overlooked problem with this arrangement is that it significantly simplifies things on the defensive end for opponents, especially given Xavier’s lack of low post scoring options. Accordingly, since Sumner’s injury, Xavier’s shooting rate around the basket and free throw rate have notably declined.

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Edmond Sumner’s Emergence As Xavier’s MVP

Posted by Justin Kundrat on January 20th, 2016

There has been no shortage of discussion around the success of Xavier so far this season. Even after a loss to Georgetown on Tuesday night, the Musketeers are a top five team with a 16-2 record and five wins over the RPI top 50. It’s put Xavier on track to potentially post the best season in program history. Xavier has earned a #3 seed in the NCAA tournament twice in its history (2003 and 2008), but has never advanced to the Final Four. Now, in building upon a dark horse Sweet Sixteen run last season, Chris Mack’s team is pounding on the ceiling. Some bracketology predictions show Mack’s team on the one seed line, and talk of legitimate Final Four potential is ramping up. A balanced offense (six players score 9 PPG or more) has combined with a stifling zone defense to pave the way to the team’s hot start. So too has the intimidating inside punch of Jalen Reynolds and James Farr, whose combined 15.6 RPG is a major reason why Xavier is one of the best rebounding teams in the country. But the true impact player for the X-men has been redshirt freshman Edmond Sumner, a wiry 6’6 point guard who drastically alters the rhythm of the game on both ends of the floor.

His assist figures may not directly reflect it, but Sumner has deftly assumed point guard duties left behind by departed senior Dee Davis, who had been a critical facilitator on last year’s team. One of the big offseason questions for Chris Mack was whether any player could fill his shoes. Sumner has done that, and more. He is averaging 5.4 assists per 40 minutes, while his scoring ability has drawn enough respect from defenders that they are forced to slide into help position and surrender an open man. His long frame and quick feet enable him to easily evade defenders in both the halfcourt and transition, frequently putting him in a position to score or make an easy pass. Here, are two perfect examples of the aforementioned optionality that Sumner provides his team.

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