Team: Xavier Musketeers
2016-17 Record: 24-14, 9-9 Big East
2016-17 Big East Finish: Seventh, one game back of a four-way tie for third, two games ahead of eighth.
Final 2016-17 KenPom Ranking: #31
Postseason? Yep. Beat Maryland, Florida State, and Arizona to advance to the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament before falling to eventual national runner-up Gonzaga.
Key Departures: RaShid Gaston (7.4 points, 5.9 rebounds); Malcolm Bernard (6.6 points, 4.1 rebounds, 1.5 assists); Edmond Sumner (15.0 points, 4.3 rebounds, 5.0 assists) to the NBA Draft due to injury rehabilitation.
Key Returners: Trevon Bluiett (18.5 points, 5.7 rebounds, 2.1 assists), J.P. Macura (14.4 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.9 assists), Quentin Goodin (7.2 points, 3.0 rebounds, 5.3 assists after Sumner’s season ending injury)
Key Arrivals: Kerem Kanter, graduate transfer from Green Bay (6’10”, 240 lb.; 11.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, 19.1 minutes); 247 Sports’ #11 recruiting class and best in the Big East, including Paul Scruggs (point guard, 6’4”, 200 lb., #31), Naji Marshall (small forward, 6’6”, 185 lb., #55), and Elias Harden (shooting guard, 6’6”, 175 lb., #134)
Coach: Chris Mack, in his ninth season at Xavier and overall (187-91)
Outlook: Towards the end of the regular season in 2016-17, we got a glimpse of what they could be without Edmond Sumner after the point guard was lost to the season due to injury. After scratching out a win in the game he suffered the injury, and then scratching out W’s in their next three, Xavier went into a massive tailspin. They lost their next six games in a row, only managing a .500 record in Big East play because they knocked off DePaul on the road to close out the campaign.
Of course, that doesn’t tell the whole tale, does it? Trevon Bluiett suffered an injury in the first of the six straight losses, and then missed the next two games because of said injury. He probably wasn’t quite right over the following three games, either. It’s safe to say this because Xavier made a run to the Big East semifinals, where they lost to Creighton, and then they made an even bigger run, advancing to the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament before falling to Gonzaga.
I don’t want to dismiss what Edmond Sumner brought to the team, because that would be foolish. However, we can’t avoid the fact that given some time to figure it out and some time to get Bluiett healthy, Chris Mack ended up winning a lot of big important games without Sumner. Scroll back up and look at the stats that Quentin Goodin posted after Sumner’s injury. I’m pretty sure most Xavier fans would take that from him in 2017-18 on a regular basis, especially the five assists.
On top of that, Xavier has added depth to their team. God bless RaShid Gaston and Malcolm Bernard, but it’s very clear that the Musketeers are adding more to their team than they lost. Kerem Kanter is clearly a skilled big man who might benefit from not being the center of defensive attention (he led Green Bay in shot percentage when he was on the floor), and Paul Scruggs and Naji Marshall should be able to contribute immediately.
I know it’s not a good plan to base evaluations on a one-and-done tournament format..... but we can’t avoid the fact that a very good team (ranked as high as #7 in the AP poll, #24 in the country the poll before Sumner’s injury) that ended up going to the Elite Eight probably ended up getting better in the offseason. Don’t be surprised when Xavier’s really good again next season. Hell, don’t be surprised at all when Xavier’s good. It’s pretty much the status quo in Cincinnati.