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Is Xavier a National Championship contender? One defensive metric says yes

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Defense wins championships.

Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

The Xavier Musketeers are 10-0 to start the season. It's tied for their best start in school history and they have proven to be the best team in the BIG EAST Conference thus far in the first third of the season.

So does that make them a National Championship contender as well?

A lot of buzz has been percolating around this question. ESPN analyst Jay Bilas recently went on record saying that the Musketeers were a Final Four-caliber club.

[h/t Justin Rice's Twitter account]

Is the buzz legit? Early returns say... that this isn't that far-fetched.

The Xavier Musketeers rank 11th in KenPom.com's Adjusted Defensive Efficiency statistic. This metric measures points allowed per 100 possessions, adjusted for opponent. No. 1 in this statistic right now is the Purdue Boilermakers, followed by the Florida Gators, Oklahoma Sooners, fellow BIG EAST squad Villanova as well as the Virginia Cavaliers to round out the Top 5.

So, why's this important? Let's take a look at past National Champions since 2002 and where they've stood with regards to this metric.

Team Rank
Maryland 7th
Syracuse 14th
UConn 5th
North Carolina 12th
Florida 6th
Florida 17th
Kansas 1st
North Carolina 21st
Duke 8th
UConn 13th
Kentucky 12th
Louisville 3rd
UConn 10th
Duke 12th

So with the exception of Florida and North Carolina in 2007 and 2009, every team that has won a National Championship since 2002 has placed themselves within the Top 15 in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency. Further, if you want to pull back the shade, you can even say that every team within the Top 20 in the statistical category has won a National Championship with the exception of the Tar Heels in '09. That's some legitimate, tangible evidence, folks, and one that's pretty hard to deny.

Now, of course there's a disclaimer: It's only December. Lots could change. In addition, this also indicates that Villanova, also, is a National Title contender. Which... hard to really deny at this point either, despite the fact that they were whomped by Oklahoma earlier this week. Plus, it's not everything or an end all-be all, given that even if you finish No. 1, it's not guaranteed to say you'll be National Title bound.

But the early returns are indicating this could be a very special season in Cincinnati. Xavier has been a stalwart defensively against some pretty good teams - Michigan, Alabama, USC, Dayton, and Cincinnati to name a few. All five are in the Top 100 on KenPom.com, and Michigan, Dayton, USC, and Cincinnati are all within the Top 50.

The Musketeers are legit, and if things continue, a deep run in March may be in their future.