Musketeers look to return to NCAA Tournament after one-year absence
Watching the NCAA Tournament instead of participating in it is not the norm at Xavier, but that’s what the Musketeers were forced to do in Travis Steele’s first season as head coach. A slow start in Big East play — three wins in its first 11 games — doomed Xavier, which missed the Field of 68 for the first time since 2013.
Missing the NCAA Tournament, however, will not become a trend for the Musketeers, who should be back in the mix thanks to the return of four starters and the arrival of several quality newcomers.
Xavier Basketball At a Glance
HEAD COACH: Travis Steele
2018-19 RECORD (BIG EAST): 19-16 (9-9)
2018-19 POSTSEASON: NIT: Lost to Texas 78-76 (ot) in the second round
G Kyle Castlin (4.3 ppg, 3.4 rpg)
F Zach Hankins (10.6 ppg, 5.3 rpg)
G Ryan Welage (6.7 ppg, 1.9 rpg)
Naji Marshall will be able to slide over and log most of his minutes at the small forward spot this year due to the addition of Ohio grad transfer Jason Carter. Steele believes Marshall is poised to break out as a junior, with an improved perimeter shot — and that’s saying a lot since the strong, tough New Jersey native averaged 14.7 points and 7.2 rebounds last season. He was at his best late in the season, averaging 18.0 points and 8.0 rebounds in the final 11 games, including a 31-point outburst in a win at St. John’s.
Tyrique Jones returns in the post, and the 6'9" senior will do what he does: provide toughness, rebounding (Steele believes he can lead the league) and shot blocking. Jones doesn’t give the Musketeers a ton of production on the offensive end of the floor, but he doesn’t need to with the talent around him this season.
Carter is the big addition to the roster. The 6'8" versatile forward averaged 16.5 points and 6.7 boards per game last season for Ohio. He will play both inside and on the perimeter, and he’ll allow Marshall to play primarily on the wing largely due to his ability to defend power forwards.
Of the three freshman big men, Zach Freemantle has the best opportunity to get minutes this season due to his combination of skill, toughness and athleticism. Kentucky native Dieonte Miles and 6'9" big man Daniel Ramsey out of Georgia will likely be forced to wait their turn.
The starting backcourt of Paul Scruggs and Quentin Goodin is back, and both of them have the potential to be all-league players. Scruggs is a hard-nosed wing who fits the Xavier mold and averaged 12.3 points per game last season as a sophomore, but the key will be whether he can make shots from deep again. Scruggs shot 37.5 percent from the arc last season, but it’ll be interesting to see if the new, deeper 3-point line affects his efficiency.
Goodin is a big, strong veteran point guard who Steele is hoping will lead the league in assists this season. He’s got enough scorers around him to accomplish that feat, and he’s also capable of scoring when necessary as well — though he shot only 37.0 percent from the floor last year as a junior.
Western Michigan grad transfer Bryce Moore will give the Musketeers an experienced player in the backcourt who can make shots — he shot 39.0 percent from 3-point range two seasons ago — and also defend. Freshman KyKy Tandy is a lock to get minutes due to his ability to score in a multitude of ways, and 6'5" wing Dahmir Bishop could also crack the rotation with his ability to make shots from long distance.
A year ago, when Steele slid over a seat after serving as Chris Mack’s top assistant, he had to patch things together with a few grad transfers — including one who didn’t even come from the Division I ranks (Zach Hankins from Ferris State in Michigan). This year, he brings back all of his key pieces and also added a highly sought-after transfer in Carter, who fits in perfectly with his four returning starters. The Musketeers possess all of the ingredients necessary — experience, talent and toughness — to ensure that their NCAA Tournament hiatus will be a brief one.
Postseason Prediction: Round of 32
Big East Prediction: 3rd