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Back to the Big East: Xavier

Catching up with UConn’s soon-to-be conference mates in the Big East. Next up: Xavier.

NCAA Basketball: Xavier at Creighton Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

After profiling Villanova last week, we are back to looking at each of the teams in the Big East, which UConn will join for the 2020-21 season. Xavier is next up on the docket.

Like Villanova, Xavier has been worth keeping an eye on come March the last seven years — just without the same success.

Quick facts

Head Coach: Travis Steele

2020 Record: 19-13, 8-10 in Big East play

NCAA Championships: None

Big East Tournament Championships: None

Big East Regular Season Titles: One (2017)

Home Court: Cintas Center in Cincinnati, Ohio

Average Home Attendance: 10,034

What UConn fans have missed

Xavier has made a postseason tournament in each of the past seven seasons under head coaches Chris Mack and Travis Steele. Its success in those opportunities has been limited, however, losing in the second or final round of the Big East Tournament in six straight seasons from 2015 to 2019. It made four (five if you include their 2014 First Four loss) NCAA Tournaments, including as a No. 1 seed in 2018 and as a No. 2 seed in 2016, but have made just two Sweet Sixteens and one Elite Eight.

They have been successful in the grand scheme of things, it just hasn’t translated to the postseason. Over the last seven seasons, they have gone 163-82 in the regular season but just 15-12 in postseason play.

Head coach Travis Steele

Xavier promoted Steele to the head coaching job in 2018 after serving for 10 years as an assistant coach after Chris Mack left for Louisville. The 38-year-old head coach has gone 38-29 in his two seasons at the helm.

His Xavier team outlasted UConn in a double-OT thriller in November of last year, winning 75-74 in Charleston, South Carolina. Led by juniors Naji Marshall and Paul Scruggs, Xavier survived a 35-point second half from UConn after taking an early lead to push it to overtime. An extended free throw battle later and the Musketeers climbed to the final of the Charleston Classic – where they would lose to Florida, 70-65.

Not only has Steele kept this Xavier team afloat but after a win over Cincinnati back in December he walked into a bar packed with Xavier fans and dropped a wad of cash — buying drinks for everyone in the joint. A quintessential baller move.

Outlook for 2020-21

Unlike the particularly young Villanova team, Xavier graduated four seniors from last year including forward Tyrique Jones, who averaged a double-double and was the squad’s second-leading scorer. Jones may get looks from NBA teams in the second round of the now-October NBA Draft. Xavier will be losing a lot of rebounding without Jones, who contributed 28.5% of all of their rebounds despite playing just 13.8% of the team’s total minutes en route to a Big East-leading 11.1 per game.

The Musketeers leading scorer from last year, Marshall, is in an even better position come October 15, listed 66th on ESPN’s top-100 draft prospects list. The forward declared for the draft in late March and then signed with an agent in mid-April, officially ending his collegiate career.

Xavier will be adding four guards this upcoming season with the recruitment of Dwon Odom, C.J. Wilcher, Colby Jones and grad transfer Nate Johnson. The Musketeers’ 2020 recruiting class is ranked 22nd in the nation by and second in the Big East, behind Marquette — who signed three four-star prospects.

They also added DII grad-transfer Bryan Griffin from Mercy College in late March. Griffin averaged 19.6 points and 14.5 rebounds per game in 24 games for the Mavericks.

Potential starting 5

Guard Dwon Odom, Fr.

Odom is the headliner of Steele’s 2020 class, ranked as the ninth-best point guard in the class and 54th overall by Odom got looks from Georgia and Florida before committing to Xavier in July 2018.

He is an athletic point guard from St. Francis in Alpharetta, Georgia, who likes to attack the basket and can impact the defensive end. He averaged 18.9 points, 5.5 boards, 6.9 assists and 2.3 steals per game across four seasons at St. Francis, according to MaxPreps.

He is not a great three-point shooter, shooting 34% from behind the line, but is incredibly efficient from inside the line — hitting 69% of his two-point attempts over his four years.

Guard Nate Johnson, Grad.

Last year, Xavier was one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the country. Their 31.2% three-point percentage was tied for 286th worst in the nation, according to basketball-reference. Their 207 made threes as a team was good for 241st in Division I last season.

In short, they needed shooting and they needed it fast. That’s where grad-transfer Nate Johnson comes in.

In 30 games for Gardner-Webb last season, he shot 41.1% from three-point land on six attempts per game. He is listed at 6-foot-3 but plays in a three-and-D wing-type role, averaging 1.7 steals and 4.7 boards per game last year as well. There is a chance he may play a secondary role to Scruggs – who is a similar player but a slightly worse shooter.

Guard Paul Scruggs, Sr.

Xavier played a forward-heavy lineup last year, relying on Naji Marshall and Tyrique Jones for the bulk of the scoring production last year. But Steele does not have that roster configuration available to him for next season, with just one returning forward who averaged more than 10 minutes per game last season.

Therefore, it seems the program will transition to a more guard-focused scheme, hence the third starting guard in Scruggs.

Just like Johnson, Scruggs is a score-first guard who has been incredibly consistent over the last two seasons. He has hit 37% of his three-pointers over the past couple years. He did see a slight decrease in overall production in his junior year but not enough to be concerned at all. He did foul out in 25% of his games last season, though, averaging 3.2 per game.

Forward Jason Carter, Sr.

Carter transferred to Xavier prior to last season having already completed his education at Ohio University, but was a junior eligibility-wise because of a redshirt year in 2017-18. The 6-foot-8 forward started 31 games for the Musketeers last season, averaging 6.9 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game for them.

His rebounding and okay shooting numbers are his main attractions but overall he’s not the type of player that will light up the stat sheet. He’s a solid player and someone who’s been around a while, a valuable piece for a younger team that’s beginning to transform under a young head coach.

Forward Zach Freemantle, So.

A 2020 Big East All-Freshman Team member, Freemantle gave a solid effort once given the opportunity to start half-way through last season. In 14 starts, he posted seven double-digit scoring performances and grabbed enough boards, 5.2 per game, to provide value.

He doesn’t take a overwhelming number of shots — 8.6 a game in starts at a 42.5% clip — which will allow the guards to be the focal point of the offense. Just like Carter, Freemantle is not a super notable player but will play a role and help the smaller guards do their thing.

Other highlights from the last seven seasons