Four games into their inaugural Big East season, a 3-1 conference record has been an acceptable start for the Xavier Musketeers. The record includes three home wins to begin the conference slate, and a road loss in which the Musketeers hung tough on a red-hot shooting afternoon from conference contender Creighton. Xavier has put themselves in a position for an NCAA tournament bid after no postseason appearance last season, but must strengthen their struggling defense.
Since Big East conference play has begun, the Musketeers rank second in offensive efficiency, scoring 1.17 points per possession. The offensive output is buoyed by conference-best marks in 2-point field goal percentage (53.2 percent), FT% (75 percent), and offensive rebounding percentage (gathering 33 percent of missed shots). A development moving forward will be the how well Xavier shoots from the free throw line. In 4 losses this season, the Musketeers have shot a horrid 56.25 percent from the stripe. Sunday’s contest against Creighton included three misses on the front end of one-and-one attempts, taking away the opportunity for three more attempts.
Defensively, Xavier currently ranks 7th in defensive efficiency, but there is reason for optimism, as the Musketeers have run into some hot shooting teams. Creighton leads the nation in 3-point percentage, so giving up 14 3-pointers at a 50 percent conversion rate including some Ethan Wragge bombs from Council Bluffs, Iowa is not something that suggests a long-term problem.
Chris Mack has embraced many principles of mentor Sean Miller’s defensive philosophy of pack-line defense, forcing contested jump shots while not extending defensive pressure. This philosophy explains while Xavier ranks last in the Big East in forcing turnovers, as only 14.8 percent of opponents possessions end with a turnover. As the season progresses, teams will have 3-point shooting nights more in line with their season averages, and Xavier’s 3-point defense will improve.
The next two contests are a pair of contests the Musketeers should win if they want to continue to be in a position for an at-large NCAA tournament bid. Georgetown visits the Cintas Center on Wednesday, a night that Xavier has increased its allotment of student tickets in order to set a student attendance record. Next Monday’s road contest against DePaul is another winnable game against a team that has been a Big East doormat over the last 3 seasons. A win in those two games would improve the Musketeers to 15-4 (5-1) and show the rest of the Big East that Xavier is a contender.