Team: Xavier Musketeers
2018-19 Record: 19-16, 9-9 Big East
2018-19 Big East Finish: Four-way tie for third place, with tiebreakers giving them the #4 seed.
Final 2018-19 KenPom Ranking: #65
Postseason? #3 seed in the NIT, and advanced to the second round before losing on the road to Texas.
Key Departures: The big one is literally the big one. 6’11” Zach Hankins (10.6 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.1 assists) wrapped up his grad transfer season after playing in all 35 games, starting 22 of them. The other two departures, Ryan Welage (6.7 points, 1.9 rebounds, 42% three-point shooting) and Kyle Castlin (4.3 points, 3.4 rebounds), also played in all 35 games, joining Hankins as part of just four Musketeers to play in every game in 2018-19.
Key Returners: Xavier returns their top four scorers from last season, led by Naji Marshall. He averaged 14.7 points along with 7.2 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game. Perhaps even more important than Marshall is Paul Scruggs. His 12.3 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 3.3 assists didn’t lead the team in anything, but he’s the returning guy who played in all 35 games, and more importantly, he started all of them, too. Tyrique Jones led the team in rebounding (7.7 per game) and added 11.3 points on the interior, too. Quentin Goodin led the team in assists with 4.8 per game plus 11 points and 3.2 rebounds.
Key Additions: The Musketeers add two grad transfers this season, another regular transfer who sat out last season as a walk-on after playing at Columbia, and five freshmen. The recruiting class, partially (mostly?) due to the size of it, is ranked #25 in the country by 247 Sports and #2 in the Big East this year.
All five freshmen are top 200 recruits with three falling in 247’s top 150. The big name is KyKy Tandy, a 6’1”, 190 pound combo guard. He’s ranked #87 in the country. Both Dahmir Bishop (6’4”, 175 lb. shooting guard, #116) and Zach Freemantle (6’9”, 215 lb. center, #131) are top 150 prospects as well.
Jason Carter and Bryce Moore are the two grad transfers. The 6’8”, 230 pound Carter comes in after redshirting and graduating in three years at Ohio, so he actually has two years remaining. He averaged 16.5 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 2.0 assists for the Bobcats last year. Moore is 6’2” and 195 pounds. He averaged 9.8 points, 2.6 rebounds, 1.5 assists, and 1.2 steals per game in 2018-19 for Western Michigan.
Coach: Travis Steele, entering his second season at Xavier and as a head coach, with a record of — wait for it — 19-16 in his career.
Outlook: I feel like it’s safe to call Travis Steele’s first year at Xavier a success. He had to withstand the loss of a lot of key guys from Chris Mack’s final season, and did a pretty good job papering over some roster issues and questions with grad transfers. The guys who carried over from Mack’s final season with the aforementioned questions all acquitted themselves extremely well, and all of that ends up making Steele look like he knows what he’s doing.
With guys like Marshall coming through for Steele last year, it makes filling in around them easier to do in year two. Steele’s job is essentially the same in 2019-20 in terms of assembling a roster, but without the question marks this time around. The lack of questions will allow him to work in his two new grad transfers as well as the five freshmen with patience and tempered expectations. You don’t have to worry about production from that big of a group of newcomers when your top four scorers are all back for another bite of the apple.
While that probably bodes well for the X-Men, the question then becomes how well?
If you’re cheering for Xavier, you’re probably pointing to the final seven games of the regular season as evidence of how well it can go. The Musketeers closed out with wins in six of their final seven games to even their Big East record out at 9-9. If you want to look at that as “It took Steele a minute to get into a rhythm as a head coach as well as figure out what he had on his roster,” that’s a fair view of things. Xavier’s non-conference schedule was essentially an extension of their 3-8 start to Big East play, as they went 1-5 against top 130 KenPom opponents.
Expecting Xavier to suddenly win 86% of their games against top teams this coming season, like they did down the stretch last year, is probably unrealistic. They’re also almost assuredly not going to win only 24% of their games against top opponents like they did at the start of last season. Somewhere in the middle, though? Perhaps around 60%? Seems pretty likely. That would make them an NCAA tournament team, I think.