Last time we did this, Xavier was in the middle of its longest losing streak of the year. Those were a couple of brutal games, but the team’s fortunes have obviously changed a bit since then. The Muskies are back on the rise and just a half game out of first place in the conference. On this flood tide of good feeling, let’s break down where every player in the system currently ranks.
As always, keep in mind that these rankings are somewhat arbitrary, based solely on how difficult a player would be to replace if he suddenly signed to play in Bosnia, and take into account a balance between current performance and season-long production. All opinions are those of the author and will be quickly disowned by SBN, Banners on the Parkway, and all versions of the author himself who will exist at any point in time in the future.
Others receiving votes: Elias Harden
Xavier will lose JP Macura, Trevon Bluiett, and Kerem Kanter at the end of this season, hopefully sometime in April. That should open up minutes and touches for Harden, who is the only Muskie to have not missed a free throw this season. In the meantime, my man has four minutes since Christmas.
9. Tyrique Jones
It’s true. Xavier has three guys who can play center. Of them, Tyrique ranks 3rd in ORtg, 3rd in OReb%, 3rd in assist rate, 3rd in fouls per 40 minutes, 3rd in block percentage, 3rd in FT%, 3rd in EFG%... you get the idea. I like him and like his tools, but he’s not producing right now.
8. Paul Scruggs
I can’t be the only one who thinks Paul has turned a bit of a corner of late, right? His ORtg has been 98 or above in each of Xavier’s last three games, and he only has 3 turnovers in that time. Coach Mack has been using him alongside Q a bit, which has been an interesting look. He’s also 3-7 from three-point range during that time; if he can even hit enough threes to make opponents not leave him wide open, that would be huge.
7. Naji Marshall
Just your garden variety freshman starting Big East games. Naji hasn’t been an offensive force in conference games, but he has been in and out of the crunch time five depending on the game situation. Moments haven’t seemed too big for him, which is good, and he’s shown himself fairly reliable when Xavier has needed to lock down a lead. He flies to the glass and is active on defense; opposing fans should be prepared to hate him like they hate JP, but they won’t for reasons that probably don’t reflect well on society.
6. Sean O’Mara
Despite being 8th in minutes in conference play, Sean leads the team in blocked shots and is third in offensive boards. When Coach Mack calls his number, he just gets in there and does his thing. In last week’s fight against Angel Delgado, it was O’Mara who did the best of any Musketeer in putting Seton Hall’s junkyard dog of a center on his heels. That kind of meanness is a nice development to compliment the rest of Big Sean’s game.
5. Quentin Goodin
Q is in a bit of a slump, but this move down has as much to do with Paul Scruggs’s emergence as a viable second point as it does anything Goodin is doing. Turnovers are up a touch and assists are down a touch, but he’s still playing good defense and converting almost 80% of his FT. If only my man had a jumper...
4. Kaiser Gates
Since being freed of the burden of starting, Kaiser is shooting 12-19/8-13/5-6 in three games, all Xavier wins. Perhaps paradoxically for a guy who has been benched, he looks a lot more confident, though I guess splashing 61.5% of your threes will do that for you. He also averaging 5 boards a game and has a block and three steals; we’re watching some of his best ball right now.
3. Kerem Kanter
I know he has been on fire for a solid month except for the Seton Hall game, but that’s the thing keeping him third. Can you imagine a game in which X got 0 points in 9 minutes from Tre or JP and beat a top-25 opponent on the road? I can’t. Kerem is probably the best rebounder in the conference by percentage and can really score; one down game on the road doesn’t meaningfully diminish that.
2. Trevon Bluiett
He’s starting to get his swagger back. One really underrated thing about Trevon is what a workhorse he is. He was second on the team in minutes as a freshman, led the team in minutes as a sophomore, was second on the team in minutes (by ten) as a junior despite missing two entire games to injury and playing hurt through several more, and is easily leading the team in minutes this year. When his career at X is remembered, people will rightly focus on how gifted a scorer he has been, but it has somehow slid underneath the radar that he’s a complete warrior who is rarely off the court.
1. JP Macura
He leaps, he bounds, he gravitates. He puts on his asymmetrical angry face - jaw jutted out to the right, brow furrowed in concentration - and goes to work. He hushes entire student sections with monster dunks. He hits huge threes. He does the big things and the little things and all the things in between. I’ve seen guys who treat the opponent, the opposing fans, their own fans, and sometimes even their own coaches as the antagonist; JP plays like the game itself is out to get him. It’s awesome.