Team: Xavier Musketeers
2021-22 Record: 9-21, 4-16 Big East
2021-22 Big East Finish: 10th, one game in the loss column behind Georgetown but well ahead of winless Butler.
Final 2021-22 Her Hoop Stats Ranking: #296 out of 356 teams.
Postseason: Only their 76-69 loss to St. John’s in the first round of the Big East tournament.
Key Departures: Well, we have to start this list with the two players that Xavier will see twice this coming season. Nia Clark and Kae Satterfield were both dismissed from the team in early February, although considering that Satterfield played in one more game than Clark, it would seem that perhaps it was not the same offense that led to their status change. Clark played in 30 games across two seasons for Xavier after transferring in from Miami following Megan Duffy taking the Marquette job and averaged 11.7 points, 2.3 rebounds, 2.8 assists, and 1.5 steals per game in 14 starts last year. Satterfield averaged 11.0 points last year, her second in Cincinnati after transferring in from Ohio State. She started in 19 of her 22 appearances, and also added a team high 7.2 rebounds along with 2.5 assists per game.
Clark and Satterfield were Xavier’s top two scorers last season and the only two women averaging more than 10 points per game while the Musketeers averaged just 62.3 points a night. Clark is now at Marquette, reunited with her Miami head coach, while Satterfield is now at Seton Hall, both teams that project to be contenders for the NCAA tournament in 2023. If we’re being honest about things, this is an improvement for both women, but we’ll get to that in a minute.
We had to start with those two, because they’re two of the three players not returning to Xavier from last year’s roster. The third is Ayanna Townsend, who spent the last four seasons at Xavier but has taken her bonus year of eligibility to Duquesne. Townsend’s four years with the Musketeers were weird in terms of being a part-time starter but not really playing starter’s minutes for two years before breaking through to that role as a senior last year. She averaged 9.1 points and 5.5 rebounds per game last year for the Musketeers, which means that XU is losing three of their top four scorers, two of their top three rebounders, and two of their top three assist leaders.
It’s not great.
Key Returners: Well, everyone else is back for the Musketeers, but I’ll let you decide whether that’s a good thing for them or not. Aanaya Harris is the leading returning scorer now at 9.2 points per game, which was third best on the team last year. It doesn’t sound like much, obviously, but that’s nearly 15% of Xavier’s points per game, so hey, not too bad. Mikayla Hayes is the leading returning rebounder at 5.9 a game last year, but the 6’2” center didn’t play a single minute past January 21st. I would love to tell you why that’s the case, but Xavier doesn’t even list her as out in their game notes for their late season games. Thanks, Xavier!
In a bit of good news for Xavier, they do return their assists leader from last season. Shaila Beeler was good for 4.0 helpers a night along with 8.2 points, 2.2 rebounds, and 1.2 steals per game. With everything else going on in and around the program, having a steady and reliable hand at point guard is going to go a long way towards creating some stability and continuity.
That leaves us with a collection of five women who return from last year’s roster that I feel we have to discuss. They all played in at least 18 games, and that low number comes from Shelby Calhoun who played in the first two games of the season and then missed time all the way through the second week of January. Everyone else played in at least 22 of Xavier’s 30 games, so you can see how they all have a decent amount of relevancy to the rotation. Calhoun and Mackayla Scarlett are the two big names, with both women earning double digit starts and Scarlett playing in all 30 games, something just she and Townsend accomplished for this team last year. Scarlett’s the better scorer, just barely, at 8.1 per game, while Calhoun had the better across the board contribution at 7.7 points and 5.2 rebounds per game.
Courtney Prenger, Kaysia Woods, and Megan Harkey all deserve a mention here, but it remains to be seen how much they’ll contribute. Prenger appeared in 29 of 30 games and started 10 times, but didn’t contribute all that much. Woods (24 appearances) and Harkey (22 appearances) did even less with their time on the floor, and they had even less time on the floor than Prenger. Harkey averaged just 8.5 minutes per game, so it’s iffy as to whether she actually deserves a mention here. Again, though, 22 of 30 games played is nothing to sneeze at, y’know?
Key Additions: Xavier does have one transfer addition to the roster. Nila Blackford, a 6’2” fowrard from Louisville, spent the last three seasons at Kent State. She started all but two games that she appeared in for the Golden Flashes, but her junior year was her least productive year. Blackford posted career lows in minutes, points, assists, and steals, but she was still one of the best rebounders in the country, ranking in the top 100 on both ends of the court in rate according to Her Hoop Stats.
The Musketeers will add four freshmen to the roster as well, including June Ruiz Azkue, who was just announced on July 18th. None of them register as worth mentioning according to Blue Star Basketball, so there’s that. There’s also Taylor Smith, who transferred in from Ole Miss last year but missed the entire 2021-22 season due to injury. That’s kind of like an addition to the team.
Coach: Melanie Moore, entering her fourth season at Xavier and overall as a Division 1 head coach. She has a career record of 17-58.
Outlook: Here is the nicest possible thing I can possibly say about Xavier: They won more games last year than they won in Melanie Moore first two seasons on the bench combined. It’s hard to knock progress, and we can’t possibly call that anything other than progress.
Okay, with that out of the way, I struggle to figure out how they’re going to win 10 games and better last year’s record by one game. Losing Clark, Satterfield, and Townsend, all with eligibility remaining even if it was COVID bonus eligibility, is not great for the long term here. Worse, I don’t know what it says about Moore’s program that she kicked her two best players off the team.... and not one but both were immediately welcomed in by Division 1 programs. Not only Division 1 programs, but programs in the same conference as Xavier, AND programs that project to be top half of the conference in 22-23 and at least have a belief that they can be in the NCAA tournament, something that Xavier can not say.
I’m not saying that Moore grossly overreacted to whatever happened. She’s trying to run a program and she’s trying to build the thing up from the three straight seasons of less than 15 wins that Brian Neal had before he was let go and just two winning seasons in the previous eight years since Kevin McGuff’s tenure wrapped up with the program’s fifth straight NCAA tournament appearance in 2011. She did what she felt she had to and needed to do..... but it’s also not a very good sign that both Clark and Satterfield immediately had their transgressions handwaved by two fellow Big East programs.
But it’s in the past, and there’s nothing that can be done about it now. Xavier is going to have to figure out how to win basketball games with the roster that they do have. There are parts here to be optimistic about. Saying they return just one play averaging more than nine points a game is bad, sure, but Xavier didn’t do much scoring last year. We can turn it around the other way: The Musketeers do return nearly 62% of their scoring from last season, including three of their top five scorers if you sort the column by total points scored instead of average points scored.
They’re going to need to modernize their offense to a drastic degree, that’s for sure. Moore seemed well aware that her team was bad at shooting three-pointers last season, as they ranked #325 in the country in shooting percentage. But they also ranked #351 out of 356 teams in terms of what percentage of their shots came from beyond the arc. They played the right way for them.... but in 2022, that’s putting you behind the eight ball because everyone else is at least thinking about shooting that three regularly. Mackayla Scarlett and Shelby Calhoun are the closest thing they have to functional shooters, but neither one was over 33% last season. They desperately need someone — multiple someones if we’re being honest as someone who watched Marquette play with only one functional shooter last year — to start hitting threes regularly just to make their entire existence easier.
Let’s face it: Xavier’s existence isn’t going to be very easy this coming season. That’s not the worst thing in the world. After all, going 5-15 in the league and winning 10 total games will qualify as an improvement. If everything breaks right for them, they’re still almost assuredly going to be one of the bottom six teams in the league and playing in the opening round of the Big East tournament. One step at a time, though, and maybe just maybe, Mel Moore can coax that out of them.