Yesterday was Big East media day. For the last couple of years, that has meant seeing just how many coaches think that this is the year that Xavier finally runs down Villanova. This year, things were a little different.
That’s Xavier languishing at sixth according to the Big East coaches. Ken Pomeroy’s system spits them out even lower with an 8-10 conference record, their worst in the Big East. Bart Torvik thinks they’ll go 10-8 in the conference, good for somewhere between third and fifth. You don’t have to go very far to find an outraged Xavier fan that either doesn’t know KenPom is a system, not a dude who guesses all 351 teams, or thinks that Big East coaches must be momentarily insane.
But is it really that hard to believe that Xavier is in for a dip this year? The Musketeers top four players in terms of usage rate are gone, their top three scorers (and the only ones in double digits), their top four rebounders, top three three point shooters, leading block man, and 119 of the 200 (59%) minutes per game all walked out the door, never to return. That’s serious damage to any team, and that’s before you consider the fact that the all time winningest coach and the man who oversaw Xavier’s biggest leap also left. Xavier basketball has never suffered so damaging an April.
To replace all that new coach Travis Steele brought in two transfers from Columbia, a guy from San Jose State, a DII player, and only two freshman. Stepping away from Xavier fandom for a moment, it’s not difficult to see why there are questions. Dontarius James and Keonte Kennedy are good recruits, but they are freshman. Can Kyle Castlin play at a higher level? Can Ryan Welage? What about Zach Hankins, who has never logged a DI minute and just got dropped into one of the best conferences in the nation? Can Travis Steele handle more than just putting an offense in place? And on, and on.
That’s not to say this is a lost season for Xavier by any means. If this is rebuilding, it’s rebuilding that all but the bluest of bloods would be happy with. Jeff Borzello still Xavier as fourth in the Big East. KenPom may have them at 8-10 but his rankings still have them at 55th in the nation. Bart Torvik might have the Musketeers fighting to stay out of the bottom half of the league, but he sees them as the 18th best team nationally.
All of that to say that this won’t be the normal Xavier. If there is a group of people out there that includes someone who picked Butler over Villanova and thinks Chris Mullin can coach a team to contending for...anything, it’s not hard to see why they would look at Xavier and think there is trouble on the horizon. So buckle down Xavier Nation, it’s back to being the underdog.