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Naji Marshall is better than you realize

Xavier’s do-it-all freshman is quietly having one of the most promising debut seasons you could ask for.

NCAA Basketball: St. John at Xavier Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

Ken Pomeroy’s website has a system for naming the MVP of any given game played at the D1 level. He explains the formula here, but just know it’s one of a million ways a person could try to objectively identify the best player in the game.

Naji Marshall has one. It came against ETSU, when Naji’s 15/5/ on a scintillating 5-6/1-1/4-4 shooting dragged Xavier back from the brink of a borderline inexplicable home loss. That performance and the below quote in the presser were when I really started to take notice of the idea that Naj was something other than “just” a good freshman.

We were about to lose, right up until we won, thanks to Naji.

Naji is the next in a line of do-everything wings that have helped make Xavier great. His length and athleticism were highly touted out of high school, and they have translated immediately to the college game. He is consistently capable of making a mess of opponents’ offensive plans both at the point of the 1-3-1 and in man.

On the offensive end, he’s comfortable off the ball and solid on it. His 6’7” frame allows him to gain an incredible amount of ground going to the rim, and his absurd wingspan lets him finish from a long way off. He is also, as we’ll discuss below, a really solid shooter.

We’ve used JP as the closest comparison on the current roster, but let’s throw Derrick Brown into the mix as well. If you’ve only been a fan since JP, Remy, and Makinde visited you in Cincinnati Children’s (welcome, by the way; we don’t do gatekeeping here), just know that DBrown was a maniacally athletic freshman wing for Xavier in 2007. He dunked on everybody, got better every year, and left after his junior season to go cash checks.

Anyway here are their respective freshman years:

MPG PPG RPG APG FG% 3P% FT% ORtg Usage
Naji (2018) 19.9 7.8 3.4 1.4 .552 .357 .734 112.6 19.1%
JP (2015) 13.2 5.4 1.2 0.6 .413 .337 .762 100.9 21.9%
D Brown (2007) 16.9 6.3 4.1 0.8 .706 .500 .700 122.3 17.6%

If that doesn’t get you excited for Naji’s future, I’m not sure what will. Despite finding his feet on the fly in one of the toughest conferences in the nation, Naj is scoring the ball at a really high rate. More impressively, he’s scoring at all three levels. In addition to his ability to finish, he’s shooting 58% (11-19) on mid-range jumpers and 35.7% (10-28) from beyond the arc. Every one of his threes is catch-and-shoot, but half of his mid-range jumpers have come without an assist.

The more I look at his numbers, the more I love this kid. He’s not Big Game James on the glass, but he rebounds as well on both ends as anyone outside of Xavier’s centers. He is already effective at defending without fouling, getting called for only 2.8 per 40 minutes. He is second in the team to only Tyrique in free throw rate. His assist rate of 12.4% isn’t superficially impressive, but it compares favorably to JP’s as a freshman.

IS THERE ANYTHING THIS KID CAN’T DO?

The icing on the cake is Naji’s closest comps on KenPom. First is Derrick Brown, who we’ve already discussed. Next is Terance Mann, who is currently averaging 15.5/5.9/2.8 as a junior at Florida State, followed by Evan Bradds, a ruthlessly efficient scoring machine and career 68% shooter from the floor. Each of these guys had a freshman year statistically similar to Naji’s before continuing on to great things.

Xavier is losing its top three scorers this year to graduation, but Naji Marshall seems primed to step into that gap. In the meantime, don’t be surprised to see the freshman sitting 7th on the team in PPG click into “oh snap we about to lose” mode down the stretch to help this Xavier team meet its considerable potential.