The Xavier Musketeers are riding high.
Following a run to the BIG EAST Tournament final and a Sweet 16 appearance in the NCAA Tournament, the Musketeers are rumbling in the early stages of the 2015-16 season. They're 9-0 for the first time since the 2008-09 campaign, which saw Xavier, under then head coach Sean Miller, reach the Sweet 16 as they so often do.
So far, there's no reason to believe that X won't be making another deep run in March again.
They have proven so far that they can beat you in a slew of ways. It could be great offense. It could be stifling defense. It could be a mixture of both. They can beat you down on the glass. They can win with their brilliant athleticism. Whatever the case may be, X is legit. That much is certain. Aside from sleepwalking through parts of their first two games of the season against Miami (OH) and Mizzou, the Musketeers have beat down every opponent that they've faced.
And a big reason for their success has been the play of one particular sophomore.
Back in October, I spoke to Xavier head coach Chris Mack at BIG EAST Media Day about the prospects for 6-foot-6, 208-pound sophomore Trevon Bluiett. Bluiett came on strong last season, somewhat out of nowhere, flying under the radar of other freshmen around the BIG EAST Conference. All Trevon did was have one of the most productive freshmen seasons in quite some time. And Mack had this to say about what the expectations were for the Indianapolis forward:
"He's going to be a guy that I think, because he's put himself in great shape, because he's gained all that experience and playing in the NCAA Tournament. He's going to have a terrific sophomore year."
Well, so far, that couldn't be more true.
Strictly looking at per game numbers, we can already see that the Park Tudor High School graduate is already experiencing growth in a number of ways.
More field goal attempts? No problem. Bluiett's FG% is up big and a lot plays in part to his stellar 3-point shooting so far. The sophomore forward has converted on 47.2 percent of his long range attempts this season. That's a team high, and considering the next highest is Edmond Sumner's 38.9 percent mark, nobody has come close to touching Bluiett's efficiency in splashing down on the net from the 3-point arc.
He's lighting it up offensively lately, posting career highs in points on what's seemed like a nightly basis lately. His sparkling efficiency from the field has been marvelous. His shot selection has seen decreases in shots at the cup and 2-point jumpers, and an increase in 3-point field goal attempts. Just like his sophomore peer at The Hall, Bluiett's found his stroke, and he's making his opponents' lives miserable. And really, that's what you like to see. Especially so from young players. If you know you can knock it down, and you know it's your best shot, knock those shots down, young man. Do what you do best.
Where else is Bluiett seeing growth? Rebounding. Shifting down to the '4' with the departure of Matt Stainbrook leaving a spot open, Bluiett has been hustling down low to help Xavier become the stout rebounding team that they are. He's averaging 8.1 rebounds through the course of his team's first nine games, second only to James Farr who, also, is having a superb season in his own right.
One thing that's made Trevon Bluiett such a terrific player so far this season is his work on the defensive end. He had his woes defensively in his freshman season at Xavier, finishing with a DRtg of 105. By comparison, the BIG EAST Defensive Player of the Year, Sir'Dominic Pointer of the St. John's Red Storm, finished the year with a DRtg of 94.2.
Is it misleading? Perhaps.
Considering that Bluiett's Defensive Win Shares - an estimate of the number of wins a player has contributed to his team on the defensive side of the ball - was 1.1, the third-best mark on the Musketeers last season, DRtg might not mean everything in that regard. Or, it could be reasonable to conclude that X wasn't a stout team defensively a season ago. They allowed 96.6 points per 100 possessions via KenPom's Adjusted Defensive Efficiency, but were very average in eFG% allowed, among other things, and got cut up inside.
But so far, based on what we have available, there's no denying that Bluiett's made a big leap on the defensive side. Through nine games, the Indianapolis native has a DRtg of only 89.5. His Defensive Win Shares is already at 0.7 and counting, and that's with an upped usage rate that stands at 23.2 percent at this point (For what it's worth, it was at 21.7 percent a year ago).
Of Xavier players who have accumulated at least 170 minutes, his DRtg is No. 3 on the team behind Farr and Jalen Reynolds. And as far as the BIG EAST goes? Here's the list of players who, at a minimum of 170 minutes played, have a better DRtg than Bluiett other than Farr and Reynolds:
- Josh Hart (Villanova Wildcats)
- Kris Jenkins (Villanova Wildcats)
- Kris Dunn (Providence Friars)
- Ismael Sanogo (Seton Hall Pirates)