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Big East Preseason Profile: Xavier Musketeers

Xavier played some of their best basketball at the end of last season. Can they carry their momentum into this season?

Wendell Cruz

Xavier 2019 Record: 19-16, 9-9 Big East (NIT Second Round, lost to Texas)

2020 returning minutes: 61.3%

Graduated Seniors: Zach Hankins (C), Ryan Welage (F), Kyle Castlin (G)

Early departures/ transfers: Elias Harden, Keonte Kennedy, Nick Vanderpohl

Incoming talent: KyKy Tandy (4* G), Dahmir Bishop, Zach Freemantle (F), Daniel Ramsey (F), Dieonte Miles (C), Jason Carter (transfer)

Likely top 5: G Quentin Goodin (SR), G Paul Scruggs (JR), F Naji Marshall (JR), F Tyrique Jones (SR), F Jason Carter (JR)

Xavier last season:

Under first-year head coach Travis Steele, promoted from assistant, the Musketeers started decently but lost six games in a row in Big East play. The Musketeers were markedly less proficient in drawing fouls and less accurate on shooting three-pointers, and the defense dipped. How much of that was a cast of players suddenly in lead roles, how much was the new coach?

What does Xavier need to do to be good all year, vs. their late-season burst? Is this team good enough to win the Big East?

The Rumble caught up with Bryan Dobney of Banners on the Parkway to learn more about the Musketeers.

Rumble: Despite the fact that Xavier missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2012-13, many around college basketball are high on the Musketeers ahead of this season. What are some reasonable expectations for this Xavier team? In other words, what would be considered a success/failure this year?

This team’s baseline expectation should be to end Xavier’s tournament drought at 1 and at least make it out of the first round. I am always leery to put down postseason tournament success as a barometer pre-season, but I think this team knows it has got the talent to make some noise come March. I don’t know if a run at the Big East title is on the cards, but if these players get it right, it could be.

Rumble: Xavier secured a fairly deep recruiting class, with all five commitments being ranked top 200 by 247 Sports. Which freshman are you most excited to watch this season? Furthermore, which freshman will have the biggest impact this season?

The obvious answer is Kyky Tandy because he scores at will and, at only 6’2” tall, dunked on a 7 footer so hard last year that he busted his chin on the rim and had to get stitches. That being said, Xavier has Paul Scruggs and Quentin Goodin returning in the backcourt and Bryce Moore joining as a grad transfer, so there will probably be an easing in process for Tandy.

I think the freshman that can find a big role from one is Dahmir Bishop. He is an all-action wing from Philly who has range on top of range. Xavier’s best outside shooter last year was Jimmy Chitwood Ryan Welage, who is now pursuing a career as a doctor, and the knock on the team last year was inconsistent outside shooting. If Bishop can bring that, he plays a big role from day one.

Rumble: One of the biggest problems Xavier had last year was that they struggled creating turnovers. On the flip side, the Musketeers struggled to prevent turnovers themselves. Do you foresee either issue getting resolved this season? If so, why do you think so?

As far as creating turnovers, I don’t see a reason why it would dramatically shift this year since Xavier’s scheme is to force a tough shot and then grab the first defensive rebound. The defense did improve as the season went on last time, but I think it had more to do with players gelling and focusing more and less to do that a fundamental scheme change.

Offensively, Xavier will have Quentin Goodin healthy from day one after he played much of last season with a shoulder injury. That combined with the fact that Goodin has a legitimate backup in Tandy for the first time in his career gives me confidence that he will get back toward where he was in conference play as a Sophomore, which was absolutely excellent.

Rumble: Forward Naji Marshall was named to the All-Big East Second Team last season. Entering his junior year, what is next in his development as a player?

Naji was another guy who got hit with injuries last season, but ended up carrying Xavier for a lot of their best basketball. His outside shot really came around toward the end of last season (not that St. John’s fans need reminded of that), which had been holding him back previously. If he can keep defenses honest when he gets the ball on the perimeter, he has the length, handles, and finishing ability to dominate a game.

Rumble: What are the biggest strengths of this Xavier team?

This team is really big and really athletic. Scruggs or Goodin figure to be the smallest starter and they are both 6’4” and routinely use their size advantage to bully smaller guards in the paint. Tyrique Jones was already a handful in the post and, although we will all dearly miss Zach Hankins, he has a cast of 6’8” and 6’9” guys around him, not to mention the raw size and athleticism of 6’11” freshman Dieonte Miles, who ran the floor as well as anyone in the team’s Spain tour this summer.

Rumble: Any prediction for a breakout player?

The guy I think will be a household name by the end of the year for college hoops fans is Paul Scruggs. There is just not a lot of good things you can do on a basketball court that Scruggs isn’t good at. He took a leap last year, but I think with teams building schemes around stopping Marshall like they did Bluiett, Scruggs is going to step into the JP Macura role of being the guy who takes your lunch money and then lets you know about it. I would not be surprised to see him do a lot better than Honorable Mention all-Big East in the postseason awards.