Previewing the Xavier Musketeers 2019-20 Season
Recapping the 2018-19 season
Xavier head coach Travis Steele’s first foray into head coaching had a fair share of trials. There were moments where the Xavier basketball program looked like a team in the middle of a rebuild. At one time they lost six conference games in a row in late-January and early-February and looked like a lost team.
And sometimes they looked like an NCAA Tournament team. The Musketeers came alive down the stretch, winning seven of its last eight conference contests.
The latter streak is more indicative of the true team Xavier is. While the Musketeers missed just their third NCAA Tournament appearance since the turn of the century, the prospects of returning to the Big Dance next March look very promising.
The Musketeers had a so-so run in the non-conference portion of the schedule, with a victory over Illinois being the only one of significance. As stated above, Xavier fared much better in Big East play going 9-9 in league play with wins over Villanova, Seton Hall and a sweep of St. John’s.
Xavier received an invitation to the NIT and beat Toledo in the first round before losing to Texas in the next round.
“(Last year) taught us we were resilient,” Steele said at Big East media day. “The Big East can be unforgiving and the difference between winning and losing is so minute. It’s the little details, having poise down the stretch and closing out games. I thought our guys all got better in those moments (down the stretch). Playing with poise in those moments and not playing with a rushed mind (taught us a lot).”
From a personal standpoint, sophomore forward Naji Marshall had a solid campaign en route to being named to the All-Big East Second Team. He averaged a team-leading 14.7 points per game, while also adding 7.2 rebounds per game.
Perhaps no team in the conference is bringing back as much firepower as much as the Musketeers.
This is an experienced core that has formed great chemistry together.
We’ve already mentioned Marshall. Marshall is already good as it is, but the expectation is he will get even better, as he combines a good post-game with a developing outside game.
Goodin is the spark plug, as he makes the engine run and is coming off a season where he averaged 11 points and a team-leading 4.8 assists per game.
Scruggs can do a little bit of everything. At 6-3, 196 pounds, he is a bull in the lane when attacking the basket and could connect from long range as well. He averaged 12.3 points, 4.9 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game while shooting 37.5 percent from three-point range.
Jones is a brute down low. The 6-9, 239-pound big man is a beast in the paint and is coming off a season where he averaged 11.3 points and a team-high 7.2 rebounds per game while shooting a healthy 62.4 percent from the field.
“I expect these guys to take the next step in maturity,” said Steele. “Efficiency and decision-making have to take a jump. They have to become guys who can show the younger guys how to do their job.”
Steele is welcoming in a robust crew of newcomers, as Xavier is bringing in a top-30 recruiting class (per 247 Sports), and also adding two high-impact transfers.
The freshmen class is led by 4-star combo guard KyKy Tandy, who is a natural-born scorer. The other freshmen include 4-star wing Dahmir Bishop, 3-star center Zach Freemantle, 3-star power forward Daniel Ramsey and 3-star center Dieonte Miles.
Carter is the main get here. He is a steadying force in the paint. At Ohio, he was an All-MAC third-team selection after averaging 16.5 points and 6.7 rebounds per game.
Moore, meanwhile, will probably come off the bench. He averaged 9.8 points in his last season at Western Michigan.
“Jason Carter will have a big impact on our team,” said Steele. “He’s a four-man. He brings versatility inside and out and does it on both ends of the floor.”
“KyKy Tandy can really score the ball,” added Steele. “He can shoot it with the best of them. (Freemantle) is tough and physical, he’s a Big East guy.”
For Steele and the Musketeers, it’s all about building off last season’s stretch-run success and carrying it over to this season.
The goal has to be getting back to the NCAA Tournament. Xavier has all the requisite pieces to not only attain that goal but go far in the tournament next March. They have the experience, playmakers, impact newcomers, and some swagger from finishing strong last year.
Add it all up and this should be a very fruitful season for the Musketeers.
“Our goal is to just get better every single day,” Steele said. “I think we have the talent to be an NCAA Tournament team. We go through the process day by day and the results will take care of itself.”
Prediction: 22-8 overall, 12-6 Big East.