So that hurt. I don’t think I’m feeling as bad as I did at this point last year, but it’s still not a great place to be. To cheer myself and maybe you up, I’m going to take a quick position-by-position look at the ‘17-’18 Muskies, who I think will be awesome.
Let’s start at the top: I think Ed will be back. He’s going to be out until December or January and not 100% until sometime after that. I don’t think an NBA team is going to want to draft and stash him, and I don’t think he’ll want to enter the draft injured. So...
I said before this year that I thought Q would be a great player for Xavier, and I didn’t see anything this season that disabused me of that notion. His distribution is already on point, and he defends hard. He’s strong and athletic and calm on the ball. He’ll need to improve his shooting and ball security, but he’s a stud.
Coming in is four-star combo guard Paul Scruggs. He’s 6’3”, 210 and an athletic monster. He’s strong and tough and defends like a demon. He’s also a really good slasher with a jump shot that could use a bit of polish. With Q, Scruggs, and eventually Ed as options, point guard will be a strength for Xavier.
For the purposes of today’s exercise, JP is a shooting guard. Bringing back his 14.4/3.3/2.9 on an ORtg of 111.3 is obviously a huge plus. He was called upon for a bigger role this year and stepped up admirably; I’m already looking forward to him as a senior.
Joining JP (in addition to Ed and Scruggs when they’re off the ball) at the two will be incoming freshmen Naji Marshall and Elias Harden. Marshall is a 6’6” wing-type guard not entirely unlike JP, except good at defense. He’s not the shooter Macura was coming out of high school, but he’s got a good jumper and can score at all three levels. He’s extremely athletic and earns top marks for his toughness.
Harden can really, really shoot the ball. He’s also 6’6” and also has a really high basketball IQ, but that’s pretty much where the similarities between he and Marshall end. He’s a really tall shooter and gets it off nicely even when under pressure.
Kaiser Gates showed flashes of huge potential this year, but it’s hard to not feel like it was a step back from last season. Maybe his knee was bothering him or maybe he just had a down year, but he didn’t break out as a sophomore. He did show that he can really be a monster on the glass when he puts his mind to it, and his skill with the ball is enough that I think he’ll bounce back over the summer.
I don’t know nearly enough about the NBA or the draft to know what to think about Tre’s future at this point.
Whatever happens with Bluiett, Jared Ridder will be a member of the Muskies next year (I hope). He’s a 6’7” or so flex four who can really step out and shoot the ball. He’s super lanky, to the point that he’s going to have to beef up to be more than an occasional contributor, but his footwork and basketball IQ draw raves and his release on his shot is nice and high. I think he’ll develop into the kind of guy opposing fans really hate getting beaten by.
If you could combine Big Sean and Tyrique Jones, you’d have the National POY. Instead, you have one guy who has dazzling footwork and a deft touch on the post and one guy who is meaner than a junkyard dog, crazy athletic, and unrefined on offense. Coach Mack has a great 1-2 punch with these guys and figures to be able to match whatever the game requires with one of them.
Former Iowa State PF Brady Ernst will join Xavier by way of Indian Hills Community College. Ernst injured his knee as a senior in high school, redshirted his freshman year at ISU because of it, and then played this season at IHCC. He averaged 9.4/6.5/0.4 on .637/.000/.726 shooting. The 6’10”, 230-pound post will have three years of eligibility remaining when he gets to Xavier.
Joining him will be Kentrevious Jones, a 6’11” monster center. He was up around 300 pounds a year ago - thanks in part to a foot injury that sapped his ability to train - but he’s losing weight and is a really strong post scorer. He doesn’t look at all like Matt Stainbrook, but he’ll remind X fans of the Stain Train with his ability to use a big body to get points on the post. Depending on how Coach Mack feels about Ernst, Big Kent might be a redshirt candidate.
Chris Mack just tip-toed his way to the Elite Eight with an eight-man rotation that realistically had no business doing what it did. To reward himself on a job well done, he stood on the court for Gonzaga’s celebration like a complete psycho because he likes to “burn those memories into [his] mind.” This is not the behavior of a man who isn’t 100% committed to getting his team to the mountaintop.
Of course, commitment doesn’t mean much without capability, and Coach Mack has that in spades. His sets and actions are so good that he literally publishes them in a newsletter and dares opponents to stop them. They usually can’t. He has shown remarkable flexibility on the defensive end, throwing out a variety of zones when he doesn’t have the horses to play his preferred man defense. He also happens to be an elite recruiter.
I hope the summer passes quickly. Xavier basketball used to go in cycles, riding a great class as far as it could go, then blooding in some new guys with a recovery year or two before doing it again. I don’t think that’s the case right now. Last year was a two seed. This year was an Elite Eight. Next year... maybe it will be the year.