The Xavier Mousquetaires are off to a good start this season. After a few shaky first games, X toppled Ohio State and then wiped out Norfolk State. The reason was a tenacious defense and rebounds that exceeded all expectations. Transfer forward Jerome Hunter’s play was significant in both cases. Xavier was also plagued by inconsistent or downright bad shots. Jerome Hunter is also at the top of the standings.
Hunter entered the season as something of an unknown amount. An incredible athlete, he struggled in Indiana after injury and then problems off the field. In our season preview, we wrote, “What he doesn’t do is bounce back really well. His tariffs will put him somewhere between Paul Scruggs and Colby Jones. Not exactly what you would expect from someone his size. Defensively, he struggles to stay in front of a man and is not a back shot blocker, although it is assumed that Coach Steele and staff will be working on that.
Coach Steele and his team worked on this. Hunter has shrunk since his stint in Indiana and looks quick and athletic. Steele deployed it yesterday for clashes between EJ Liddell and Christian Ings. Hunter responded with aggressive defense and smart play. Jérôme averages 35 minutes per game but, despite clashes all over the field, he averages only 3.7 fouls every 40 minutes. Hunter’s block and steal rates are both over 2%. Defensive improvement? Absoutely.
On the glass, Hunter not only improved, he was amazing. Hunter’s 8.7% offensive rebound rate is now fourth on the team, but would have led the team last season. The fact that he’s not leading this year is a lot more testament to the entire team’s commitment to the offensive glass. His rate is more than double his average in Indiana. On defensive glass, Hunter’s 20% rebound rate only tracks the Jack Nunge possession gum. Jérôme has been a constant presence on the boards on both sides and that’s a big part of why Xavier is 39th in the country in offensive rebounds and 60th in defensive rebounds.
Xavier isn’t close to those numbers that shoot the ball, though, and Jerome Hunter is sadly a big part of that too. Hunter is 3-10 on two tight ends, 0-5 from everywhere else in the arc and 2-14 at depth. It’s a terrible shootout. Xavier is 71st nationally in two-point shooting. Remove Hunter (which drops them from 54.1% to 58.4%) and X goes to the 30th. Xavier is currently 235th in the country with an appalling 29.7% behind the arc. Take out Hunter and those numbers go up to 32% and 189th, still not very good. Hunter is averaging 4.8 / 7.0 / 2.3, but he gets his points in volume, which is reflected in his offensive efficiency of 79.4.
Jerome Hunter has therefore greatly improved his defense and rebounds. It is no exaggeration to say that he is one of Xavier’s best players in these two categories. Hunter added a dimension to Xavier’s defense as a guy who can go up against each other on any pitch but can also reach the defensive glass. That kind of versatility is why Xavier’s defense has been so good so far this year. However, all of this defensive utility comes at a price. Hunter still shoots like a player who knocked down 54% of his twos and 34% of his threes last year as a Hoosier. Until he does it again, however, Jerome gives on one side and takes away on the other.