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.
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.