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2023-24 Big East Men’s Basketball Summer Check-In: Xavier Musketeers

Sean Miller has to rebuild his roster a bit in Year 2, but is that going to slow down his success?

Georgetown v Xavier
What is it about Zach Freemantle that made me keep forgetting that he was leading the Musketeers in rebounding?
Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Team: Xavier Musketeers

2022-23 Record: 27-10, 15-5 Big East

2022-23 Big East Finish: Second, two games behind Marquette and one game ahead of Creighton

Final 2022-23 Ranking: #15, up from their preseason ranking of #38

Final 2022-23 T-Rank Ranking: #20, exactly even with their preseason ranking

Postseason? After getting smashed by Marquette in the Big East championship game, Xavier picked up a #3 seed in the NCAA tournament. They defeated Kennesaw State and Pitt to get to the Sweet 16 before going out against #2 seeded Texas.

Key Departures: The Musketeers have lost four starters from last year’s squad. Souley Boum is at the top of the list after leading the team in scoring at 16.4 points and just barely landing in second place in assists at 4.3 per night. He also grabbed 4.3 rebounds, hit over 40% of his three-pointers, and was a general terror all over the floor for Xavier.

If we’re just running down the list in order of scoring average, then #3, #4, and #5 on that list are all gone as well. Colby Jones is the one who led the team in assists at 4.4 per game, and he was third in scoring at 15.0 while also registering 5.7 rebounds. All of that was good enough to get him to be selected with the #34 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, which ultimately landed his rights by way of trade with Sacramento.

Next up is Jack Nunge, who parlayed his inside/outside game to 14.2 points and 7.8 rebounds per game for the Musketeers. Adam Kunkel rounds out the group at 10.9 per game, and he also contributed 2.7 rebounds and 3.0 assists while hitting a somewhat crazy 43% of his long range shots. I’m going to mention KyKy Tandy on this list of departures just because he started in six of Xavier’s first eight games. That indicates that the coaching staff thought he was going to be a big contributor..... but he appeared in just 14 games after that, and didn’t get on the court for any of XU’s final 10 contests. Officially: 22 games, 6 starts, 10.5 minutes per game.... but clearly not a part of the rotation by the time Big East play started in earnest.

Key Returners: The list of key returners starts with Zach Freemantle. It’s not just because he was second on the team in scoring at 15.2 per game and led the team in rebounding at 8.1 per game. It’s also not because he shot 64% from behind the three-point line on 22 attempts last season, although: HOLY COW, am I right? No, the big note here is that this will be Freemantle’s bonus season of eligibility after he missed the final 15 games of last season due to a foot injury that ultimately needed surgery. The surgery wasn’t announced until March 5th, but I don’t fault anyone at XU for thinking that he might be able to get back on the court with therapy and rehab.

Jerome Hunter was the primary beneficiary of Freemantle’s injury, as he was the one who slid into the starting lineup for the rest of the season. Once he was in the first five, Hunter averaged 10.3 points and 5.9 rebounds in 30 minutes of action per game. All told, he averaged 7.8 points and 4.4 rebounds in 21 minutes, so it’s clear he was getting work done with his extra time on the court. It remains to be seen how Hunter and Freemantle might end up playing together this season.

That leaves Desmond Claude as the only other notable guy from last year that’s back for another round. He appeared in 35 games, missing two in mid-February, and came off the bench in all but one of those contests. Claude was playing a little bit more than half the game on average, chipping in 4.7 points and 2.5 rebounds. He’s probably going to have to figure out a way to do better than 29% behind the three-point line this coming winter.

Key Additions: For once, we’ve got a big ol’ freshman class of recruits to mention here. It’s the #16 freshman recruiting class in the country according to 247 Sports, and Trey Green (6’0”, 160 lb., Guard, Charlotte, North Carolina) leads the way. The Prolific Prep product comes in ranked #63 in the 247 Composite system, which puts him at least in the early conversation for Freshman of the Year candidates. Dailyn Swain (6’7”, 200 lb., Guard/Forward, Columbus, Ohio) is the other Composite top 100 guy, wrapping up his prep career at #89 in the country. 247 likes both Reid Ducharme (6’7”, 195 lb., Guard/Forward, Milton, Massachusetts) and Kachi Nzeh (6’8”, 230 lb., Center, Upper Darby, Pennsylvania) more than the rest of their peers. 247 has Ducharme at #97 internally, but he lands at #119 in the Composite. Nzeh might be a bit of a project big man, but 247 had him at #142 while the Composite puts him at #200.

The four freshmen are joined by four transfers as well. Quincy Olivari (6’3”, 200 lb., Guard, Atlanta, Georgia) might have the early lead on being an impact player right out of the gate if for no other reason than this is his bonus season of eligibility and he’s not going to Xavier to sit on his hands. He’s been at Rice for the past four years, and wrapped up his senior year averaging 18.7 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 2.2 assists, plus a steal per night. Dayvion McKnight (6’0”, 188 lb., Guard, Shelbyville, Kentucky) was a starter for Western Kentucky the past two years, and as a junior last year, he averaged 16.5 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 3.8 assists. Abou Ousmane (6’10”, 240 lb., Forward, Brooklyn, New York) was at North Texas for the past three seasons, starting in all of his 66 appearances over the last two seasons. He went for 11.1 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks per game in 2022-23. Logan Duncomb (6’10”, 250 lb., Center, Cincinnati, Ohio) was a top 75 prospect coming out of high school, but that turned into just 71 total minutes across 18 appearances in two seasons with Indiana. Shouts to Duncomb’s mother, who was on the crew team at Marquette, according to his bio page.

Coach: Sean Miller, entering his second season in his second stint at Xavier. He has an overall record of 449-166 including his tenure at Arizona in between his two runs with the Musketeers.

Outlook: To the surprise of no one, Sean Miller can coach some basketball.

We all thought Xavier was going to be a good basketball team last season because they returned a bunch of guys who went 18-12 in the regular season and won the NIT, and then also made an obvious upgrade at the head coaching position. Yep, they were good: 23-8 overall in the regular season, 15-5 in the Big East, went to the conference tourney title game, and then went to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tourney.

Heck, given that Xavier went 6-3 in regular season Big East games after Zach Freemantle went out for what would turn out to be for the rest of the season after starting 9-2, you can make an argument that Xavier was actually better than their ultimate 27-10 record suggests.

That brings us to Miller’s second season in charge. The bad news for Xavier is that their rotation is going to look wildly different than it did last year. Losing Souley Boum, Colby Jones, Jack Nunge, and Adam Kunkel leaves an awful lot of question marks around the rotation. One of them is not the health of Freemantle, as I don’t think anyone’s expecting him to take more than eight months to be back to 100% status. But with Freemantle, Jerome Hunter, and Desmond Claude as the only guys who know what it takes to execute night in and night out for Miller, it’s asking a lot to think that Xavier’s just going to go right back to winning 75% of their Big East games.

The counterpoint to that is obvious: Last year, none of the guys knew how to execute night in and night out for Miller, and they were just fine. Xavier’s coaching staff knew the clock was ticking on the fifth and final year of eligibility for Boum and Kunkel, and Nunge was already on his sixth year in college after injury troubles across four years at Iowa. The recruiting class of new freshmen coming in was put together — admittedly somewhat on the fly given the timing of when Miller was hired last year and the November signing period — knowing what they were going to lose for sure. The transfers were brought in to solve for the holes they couldn’t fill with freshmen, not to mention the new ones created by transfers heading out of the program as well as Colby Jones heading to the draft. This is, at this point, a roster of guys who are intentionally at Xavier because they want to play for Sean Miller, and that has to mean something for what it’s possible for them to accomplish by the time we get to March.

It’s not a terrible surprise that has the Musketeers at #40 in the country heading into next season. That feels pretty accurate to what the Musketeers are relative to their counterparts elsewhere in the league. UConn, Creighton, and Marquette all shape up as challengers for the league title and tippy top seeds in the NCAA tournament. Xavier is one step down from that level, just because of the question marks on the rotation right now, and so the algorithm labeling them as “almost definitely a tournament team, in contention at the absolute worst” feels almost exactly right.

Would Xavier be my Best Bet to outperform their preseason projection? Yeah, I think so. Remember: Sean Miller can coach some basketball. If he gets the buy in that he needs from the new guys and gets it fast? You can see how the Musketeers could easily be a favored seed NCAA tournament team.