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A look ahead at Team 98 for Xavier Basketball

This season has come to an end, but Team 97 left its mark on Xavier basketball. They also laid the groundwork for a potentially immediate return to the ranks of the elite for Team 98.

NCAA Basketball: Big East Tournament-Villanova vs Xavier
"Dude, we're going to be great next year."
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

We will be back with our annual audience survey regarding how you rate every member of the roster and our farewells to the seniors, but for now let's take just a brief moment to look a little bit farther down the road for Xavier. We hate to do this at the end of March, but it's just because we're so excited for the start of November. Here we go.

What's leaving

Grad transfers Zach Hankins, Ryan Welage, and Kyle Castlin have played their last games in Xavier colors. They combined for 21.8/10.5/2.5 per game, 76 of the team's 240 made threes, and 65 of the team's 128 blocks. These guys leave 62.5 minutes per game needing filled, as well as the roles of rim protector, post up big man, catch-and-shoot threat, and glue guy.

NCAA Basketball: Big East Tournament-Xavier vs Creighton
Gonna miss this dude.
Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

What's coming back

What people are calling - for good reason - the Core Four.

The starting backcourt of Quentin Goodin and Paul Scruggs figures to return. Scruggs showed flashes of being a transcendent player this year, shooting 52% from inside the arc and 37.5% behind it. He is a threat to score from all three levels and can take over a game. Q had spottier results scoring the ball (43.8% EFG), but he dished out almost 5 assists per game despite fighting injuries all year. In Xavier's last 13 games, he played fewer than 35 minutes just once.

Naji Marshall may be the highest-ceiling player on the team. He boards like a big man, but he can grab the ball and run end to end to score it himself, set up a teammate, or pull up from deep. Coach Steele also trusted him to initiate the offense from time to time this year. He was streaky from beyond the arc, but other than that he was a rock-solid two way player.

Tyrique Jones rounds out the Core Four. He wasn't far behind Hanky, shooting 62% from the floor. His weight loss was the "Matt Stainbrook drives Uber!" of this year, but there's no denying he changed his body and was ready to rock. His career high in minutes was 25 coming into the season; he eclipsed that mark 18 times this year while showing himself insatiable in the post and on the glass.

Farther down the depth chart, Elias Harden is an interesting case. He was 7-9 from deep in Hawai'i, disappeared for about a month, grabbed 24 minutes against Georgetown, then used his defensive length and energy to help spur the run Xavier went on in February. After a one-game suspension, he averaged 9 minutes per game in Xavier's last 6. I'm not giving away inside info here, but you wouldn't blame the man for surveying the options. Despite that, I really, really hope he stays, because I think he has a huge place in this team.

I didn't see enough of Dontarius James or Keonte Kennedy to speak responsibly about what their roles on Team 98 might look like. While they didn't light the world on fire as freshmen, Xavier fans remember a certain forward who got 42 minutes in his first season turning into Big Game James Farr by his senior year.

What's coming in

A top 20 recruiting class.

Guard Kyky Tandy is a 6'1" ball of fire who probably should have been Mr. Basketball in Kentucky. He's known for his explosive athleticism which is on display in his end to end speed and occasional poster dunk over a seven footer, but he has flashed good range on his jumper and the ability to finish with either hand near the rim. He can play both guard positions but is more wired to score than distribute. He can be a tough defender when he commits to it.

Dahmir Bishop is another four-star guard on his way to Xavier. The 6'4" Philadelphia native is coming off of three straight state championships with Imhotep Institute. He is a smooth shooter with deep range off the catch or the bounce. He has the length and bounce to be a handful at the rim, but adding strength is going to be a priority for him there and on the defensive end. Coach Steele has mentioned him as a guy who can have an immediate impact at the college level.

Forward Zach Freemantle is a four-star big man out of New Jersey. He has solid athleticism and a good second jump, but it's his toughness and willingness to get stuck in that allow him to excel. He never quits on the boards and has a nose for the ball. He has offensive range out to 12-15 feet, but it will be his willingness to fight closer to the basket than that that endears him to Xavier fans. Also, hes about 6'9" or 6'10", if you're the kind of person who thinks how tall someone is affects his basketball fortunes.

Jonas Hayes continues to pay dividends in Georgia with the signature of 6'8" PF Daniel Ramsey. Ramsey is an athletic big man with plenty of room to grow in his game. He's a rim runner on offense right now who gets most of his buckets by beating his man to better spots for dump offs or outlets. Scouting reports indicate he knows how to block shots, which gives he and I something in common. I'm guessing he pairs physical ability with that knowledge, which probably makes a meaningful difference.

The tallest member of the class is Dionte Miles, a big man out of Walton-Verona who is close enough to 7' tall that you'll believe it when Xavier lists him there. He currently weighs 210 pounds, which is a bit of a concern. On the other hand, Texas Tech big Tariq Owens is 6'10", 205, and he's doing just fine. Miles, like Owens, is an elite shot blocker; his height and reach are almost comical at the high school level. He has smooth lefty touch and good footwork for such a big dude. He's sure to be the subject of rumors about a redshirt, but don't write off the possibility that he makes a real contribution this season.

What's left to do

Xavier currently has one scholarship left open for the 2019-2020 season. In the postgame radio show, Coach Hayes said the order of the day was talent acquisition, so expect to see the Muskies active in trying to fill that spot. It doesn't take a genius to look at the roster and see where additional spots might open up, but we'll leave that for another day unless something concrete comes to our attention.

For now, five new faces will join the Core Four, Eli, Dontarius, and KK. Despite losing a coach and five players who went on to pro ball, Xavier was able to scrape together an incredibly entertaining season. With a highly-rated recruiting class joining a motivated group of veterans and a coaching staff already proving its mettle, the future is bright on Victory Parkway.