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History shows Travis Steele is in a uniquely difficult position

The last Musketeer coaching transition had a buffer of incoming talent to make up for the recruiting gap; without it, Steele has to to hit home runs on the trail immediately.

NCAA Basketball: DePaul at Xavier
“We’ve got a bunch more dudes coming in next year. Trust me.”
Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

Jeff Robinson.

Jay Canty, Jordan Latham, Griffin McKenzie.

Justin Martin.

Those are the first five guys Chris Mack recruited out of high school to come play under him as a head coach. Robinson was the star (only member) of his first class. Canty, Latham, McKenzie, and Martin came a class later, but Martin was a partial qualifier and didn’t suit up until Robinson was a junior.

By the time Robinson was a senior and team team was finally devoid of players who came in under Sean Miller, Xavier staggered to a 17-14 record, hamstrung by the staff’s inability to immediately refresh the well of talent.

Prior to that, though, were some dang good years. Miller guys Tu Holloway, Mark Lyons, and Jordan Crawford formed an electrifying backcourt that played in one of the best NCAA tournament games I’ve ever seen, falling in the Sweet 16 in double OT to Kansas State.

Jordan Crawford went to go get paid, but the next year Tu and Cheeks dragged the 345th-deepest team in the nation to a six seed and then made another Sweet 16 run in their last year together at X.

In the three years the Muskies were being carried by Sean Miller’s players, the only two guys Chris Mack brought in who got more than 50% of the available minutes in any given season were Dez Wells (57.5%) and Andre Walker (69.5%), both in 2012.

From the five guys who made up Chris Mack’s first two classes at Xavier, the Muskies got just 263 games and 95 starts. They played 15.7 minutes per game and went for 4.8/3.0/0.4 averages on a shooting line of .463/.310/.690. That’s not what each guy averaged per game, that’s what the group as a whole averaged, buoyed at one end by the 712 points Justin Martin scored in three years and dragged down by... pretty much everyone else, really.

Somewhere in the middle exists Jeff Robinson.

The sober reality is that, if Travis Steele misses as hard in his first two seasons of recruiting as Coach Mack did, Xavier will tank and Steele will be fired. There is no cushion of returning talent to ease Steele into the job. He will either sink or swim based on his ability to bring in and integrate top-level talent right from the start.

And just one more little twist in this: Xavier’s five-man 2019 class has ratings of 96, 94, 93, 92, and 88. Four of them are in 24/7’s top 150, and three of them are four-star guys. Their average rating is 92.85. Mack’s first five guys - whom I’ve spent much of the above maligning - were a 92 (Jeff Robnison), 97 (Justin Martin), 96 (Jay Canty), 95 (Jordan Latham), and 88 (Griffin McKenzie). I don’t know if it was scouting or fit or development that led to those two classes of guys turning into a talent vacuum for Xavier, but any hopes you have for Xavier’s near future rest on history not repeating itself in Steele’s first two classes.