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2020-21 Big East Women’s Basketball Team Preview: Xavier Musketeers

Will there be notable improvement from the Musketeers in Year 2 under Melanie Moore?

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Xavier v DePaul
What does A’riana Gray have in store for her senior season?
Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Team: Xavier Musketeers

2019-20 Record: 3-27, 2-16 in the Big East

2019-20 Big East Finish: Tied for ninth place, which is also a tie for last place. By way of losing tiebreakers, they ended up with the 10th seed in the Big East tournament.

Final 2019-20 Her Hoop Stats Ranking: #253

Postseason Projection: Lol, nope

Key Departures: Forget Key Departures, Xavier has just one departure from last season. Ashley Gomez appeared in 28 of 30 games last year for the Musketeers, including two starts. At just 8.9 minutes per game, she didn’t have much of an impact on the season in terms of stats.

Key Returners: Can I interest you in a team that brings back all of their nine top scorers from a year ago? We can phrase that a little bit differently, if you want. Nine women averaged at least 15 minutes per game last season for Xavier, and all nine return for the 2020-21 campaign. That seems like pretty good news.

The big three are A’riana Gray, Aaliyah Dunham, and Lauren Wasylson, as they all started at least 25 times last season. If you want, you could even toss Ayanna Townsend into that mix there, as she appeared in all 30 games and started 21 times. All told, that’s an incredible amount of returning playing time, as well as experience playing together.

Gray led the team in scoring a year ago at 15.8 points per game, and her 9.3 rebounds were tops on the roster as well. She was the only player to average more than nine points and more than five rebounds per game. As was the case last year, the pathway to shutting down the Musketeers runs through taking the 6’0” Gray out of the picture.

Dunham was third on the squad in scoring at 7.5 per game, but she led Xavier in assists at 4.5 per game. Dunham was one of four women to play in all 30 games last season, but the only one who started in all 30 contests. Wasylson was Xavier’s most likely shooter, as she led the team in long range attempts at 142 on the year and only took 188 shots in total all season. She only hit on 31% of those, so generally speaking that’s not actually helpful.

We haven’t mentioned Carrie Gross yet, and the 5’11” guard was second on the team in scoring even though she only started in 10 of XU’s games. She still averaged more than 22 minutes per game, which is pretty good for a player who was a sub for most of the year. We have to bring up Morgan Sharps too, as she fired off fewer threes (128) than Wasylson, but made more (48). Dunham was the only other regular to hit a higher percentage of her long range attempts, so you’d think that Sharps should have an obvious role for the upcoming season.

We’re still going! Sarah Leyendecker averaged 5.8 points and 4.6 rebounds in her first year of eligibility after transferring in from Akron. Ayanna Townsend and Courtney Prenger both appeared in all 30 games last year, with Townsend earning the start in 21 of them. The 6’2” Townsend has the edge in statistical contribution here, providing 5.5 points and 4.6 rebounds in her 19 minutes per game. That leaves us with Deja Ross as the final piece of the returning puzzle. Only 3.1 points and 3.4 rebounds per game for the 6’0” Rhode Island native, but eight starts in 28 appearances isn’t nothing.

Key Additions: Nia Clark is a transfer that is now eligible after sitting out last season following her transfer from Miami (OH). Clark started six times in nine games for Megan Duffy (yes, Marquette’s Megan Duffy) and the RedHawks before a season ending injury shut her down the rest of the way. The 5’9” Indianapolis native was averaging 10.6 points and 2.7 rebounds before her injury. In other transfer news, Kae Satterfield is immediately eligible for the Musketeers after leaving Ohio State last season after appearing in 18 games. The former top 60 prospect averaged just 2.4 points and 1.8 rebounds per game before electing to withdraw from the Buckeyes’ program, and I would think that adding a top prospect like that essentially out of the blue should be a pretty big deal for Xavier. For those of you older types out there reading this, yes, that’s Cincinnati star Kenny Satterfield’s daughter, and yes, he is already preparing for the static he will get from his former teammates about his daughter going to Xavier.

In addition to those two, there are four freshmen on the roster. None of the four have any particular notable standing, with Janayshia Brown coming in as Blue Star’s top rated recruit in the class at #225. Given the number of people returning from last season and the two transfers, a lack of obvious immediate impact freshmen isn’t the worst thing.

Coach: Melanie Moore, entering her second season on the sidelines at Xavier. It’s her first head coaching job, so Moore has an all-time record of 3-27.

Outlook: So you take last year’s team, add a transfer who practiced with the squad all of last year, mix in a top 60 prospect that didn’t make an immediate impact at her original school of choice, and dust with a coating of new faces in the freshman class, and what do you get?

That’s the question for Melanie Moore in Year #2. In theory, bringing essentially her entire team back for another go around and adding new blood to the mix should mean that the Musketeers get better. One of the hardest things about coaching college basketball is mitigating problems due to the constant turnover you’re required to have just because of eligibility limits. That’s not really a problem for Xavier here, as Ashley Gomez wasn’t having that big of an impact on XU last season. That kind of continuity should be a bonus for Moore and her charges. In theory, adding Kae Satterfield to a team that returns largely intact should actually make the the Musketeers notably better than last year.

In theory.

The problem with the theory is that Xavier was awful last year, and it’s possible that “notably better” means that they go from awful to just bad. 16 of their 27 losses were by a double digit margin, with 11 of them coming against Big East foes. Seven of those 16 losses were by at least 20 points. Two of them — at DePaul and at St. John’s — were by more than 30 points and both of them happened after Valentine’s Day, when you’d like to think that a team with a first year head coach might just be finally clicking.

The evidence for awfulness doesn’t stop at merely measuring the depth of the losses. The Musketeers ranked #312 in the country in field goal percentage and a woeful #340 in two-point shooting percentage. They made life even harder for themselves than it needed to be, ranking #253 in the country in foul rate according to Her Hoop Stats.

And that’s just the numbers for what Xavier was doing!

In terms of what they were allowing from the other team, the Musketeers ranked lower than #280 in the following categories: field goal percentage, two-point shooting percentage, three-point shooting percentage, effective field goal percentage, free throw rate, three-point rate, assist rate, and block rate.

That’s a big ol’ bag of yuck, and merely rolling the exact same crew out on the floor isn’t going to fix that...... except that’s kind of what Xavier has to do this season. Sure, Kae Satterfield is probably going to get a chunk of minutes that went somewhere else last year, so that should change the equation. A’riana Gray desperately needs help out there, because Xavier’s plan of running everything through her — HHS says she led the country in Usage Rate at over 38%! — wasn’t working. In theory, and there’s those words again, Satterfield is that second punch in a 1-2 combo that raises the tide for the Musketeers.

But if she’s not..... well, I’d like to say that someone has to step up to that role. But if that was a thing that was 1) possible and 2) likely, then I’d like to think that Moore and her coaching staff would have identified it through 30 games a year ago. They didn’t, and it meant 27 losses, most of them ugly. If it’s more of the same this coming season from the tactical side, I’m afraid it’s going to be more of the same from the win-loss record side.