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2021-22 Big East Women’s Basketball Team Preview: Xavier Musketeers

The Musketeers find themselves rebuilding in Year 3 with Melanie Moore.

NCAA Womens Basketball: Xavier at Connecticut
What can Nia Clark and Melanie Moore cook up for the 2021-22 season?
David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Team: Xavier Musketeers

2020-21 Record: 5-10, 2-8 Big East

What, what? Yeah, they only played 10 Big East games. Between January 4th and February 16th, they played one game, which came on January 23rd.

2020-21 Big East Finish: Ninth, two games behind St. John’s in the win column and four behind the Red Storm in the loss column.

Final 2020-21 Her Hoop Stats Ranking: #279

Postseason? Just their 65-57 loss to St. John’s in the First Round of the Big East tournament.

Key Departures: The Musketeers have lost six of their top eight scorers from last season and seven of their top 10. The biggest loss is A’riana Gray, who led the team in scoring (13.3 points) and rebounding (6.7) last season. She started in all 13 games that she played in and averaged just over 26 minutes a night.

We’ll move on from Gray to Aaliyah Dunham, who was the only Musketeer to start in all 15 games last season and one of just three to appear in all 15. Dunham was good for 30 minutes a night for Xavier, tops on the team, while adding 5.5 points, 3.4 rebounds, and a team high 3.8 assists per game. Right there, just in those two women, that’s a significant chunk of production and playing time out the door, but the good news, so to speak, is that both Gray and Dunham were seniors last season so the loss was expected.

The same can’t be said for the other five departing players. Carrie Gross (6.2 points, 1.8 rebounds, 1.2 assists) spent three years in Cincinnati before moving on to UNC Wilmington; Morgan Sharps (4.8 points, 1.1 rebounds, 1.0 assists in 15.9 minutes across eight appearances) elected to head to Bowling Green after two seasons with XU; Sarah Leyendecker (4.3 points, 3.6 rebounds in 14 appearances) opted for a transfer to Akron after her two seasons at Xavier; Shaulana Wagner (11 appearances, 2 starts, 4.1 points, 2.3 rebounds) has gone to Wabash Valley College in the junior college ranks, and Lauren Wasylson (15 appearances, 12 starts, 3.9 points, 2.7 rebounds, 1.1 assists) is at Duquesne after three seasons with the Musketeers.

Key Returners: Xavier returns six players total and only four who had a notable role last season. In what counts as fantastic news after all of the departures that we just talked about, the Musketeers have two of their top three scorers back again this year. Nia Clark went for 11.5 points, 1.4 rebounds, 1.8 assists, and 2.0 steals per game last year. She also shot 37% from long range, which is especially important here because she was the only three-point shooter on the team worth a damn. Clark was the #2 scorer on the team behind A’riana Gray, while Kae Satterfield was #3. The former Ohio State Buckeye gave XU 9.2 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 1.7 assists per game in 22.1 minutes while coming off the bench in seven of her 15 appearances.

Courtney Prenger and Ayanna Townsend are worth mentioning as “key” returners because 17 minutes and 12.7 minutes per game respectively are pretty notable even if they didn’t play in every game. They played in most (11 for Prenger and 14 for Townsend) which given how weird XU’s season was, that’s good enough. Neither woman made a supreme impact on the box score — 7.9 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 1.2 steals combined between them — but given how little is returning for the Musketeers this season, having regular on court experience from last season is a big deal.

Key Additions: By definition, I default to thinking that anyone coming in as a transfer is an impact player waiting to happen. They wouldn’t have chosen to transfer there if they weren’t going to have a notable role, right? With that said, none of the four (!) transfers arriving in Cincinnati for this season have anything in their history that makes it obvious how they will contribute. Taylor Smith (5’8” guard) made 82 appearances at Ole Miss in three seasons, but had career highs of 6.3 points and 2.7 rebounds. Mikayla Hayes (6’3” center) started at Florida then transferred to Clemson for two seasons. That’s 86 career games, but yearly bests of 2.9 points and 2.8 rebounds. Shelby Calhoun (5’11” guard) got into four games for Virginia Tech as a freshman last season and totaled three points and four rebounds in 20 minutes. Shaila Beeler (5’7” guard) is back in the Division 1 ranks after spending the last year and a half at Vincennes University in the junior college ranks, and that was after one semester at Indiana where she was on the same roster as current DePaul player Jorie Allen. I’d love to tell you about Beeler’s time at VU but they don’t keep archives on their website and Xavier doesn’t say anything in her official bio, either. I will say that she was ranked #22 in the country coming out of high school by Prospects Nation, but all that does is make me wonder why she went the JUCO route after leaving IU.

They also have three freshman listed on the roster this season. All three are listed by Blue Star, with Kaybrianna Hallman coming in as the top ranked and only top 200 player at #169.

Coach: Melanie Moore, entering her third season at Xavier and overall as a Division 1 head coach. She has a career record of 8-37.

Outlook: It’s probably not good, but that’s not surprising, either.

Last year was a mess for Xavier. As you can see from the top of the page, they only played 15 games. They played their opener on November 25th, then didn’t play again due to cancelations until December 13th. Between January 4th and February 17th, they played just one game, a January 23rd road trip to Seton Hall. When they restarted their season in the middle of February, the Musketeers were 4-5 on the season and 1-4 in Big East play, and starting off conference action with UConn and Marquette did not help. After the restart, they went 1-5, with the only win coming on their final home game of the year against a Georgetown team that was clearly having just as big of problems as Xavier was.

A total mess, and still, somehow, it qualifies as a better campaign than Melanie Moore’s first season since they went 3-27.

This season probably is going to struggle to be an improvement on 5-10 last year, but again, this isn’t surprising. Xavier has had just two winning seasons (2015 and 2016) since 2011. Sure, Moore was hired to fix that problem, but she had an uphill battle to start. Improving over Year 1 is good, but as it turns out, when Xavier turned that corner, all they found was more hill to climb.

Losing Gray and Dunham from last year’s squad is bad, sure, but when Moore was hired, those two were expected to depart after the 2020-21 season. Losing five regulars who all had more eligibility than just their COVID-bonus season? That’s a real problem. That means this is Year Three for Moore, and she’s essentially hitting the reset button on the whole deal. That’s not ideal, especially for a coach with just eight career wins.

Clark and Satterfield provide her with a good starting point for this season. XU will clearly need a whole bunch more from Prenger and Townsend as the only other players on the roster who understand what Moore is actually asking from them on the floor. Can the other two returning players — 6’6” center Megan Harkey and guard Mackayla Scarlett — provide something that they weren’t in their freshman seasons last year?

Xavier’s inbound transfers all have college experience, but they’ve never been asked to carry a team before. Maybe that’s good news for Xavier, as Clark and Satterfield are the likely leaders here. Maybe the transfers can fill in behind them and maybe that’s the plan. If that’s not the plan? If Smith and Hayes are expected to do the heavy lifting? You can easily see how that’s a recipe for trouble here, and the Musketeers are already signed up for a whole heaping pile of trouble anyway.