However, people seem to be split on Xavier. I’ve seen multiple polls include Xavier, while others have them outside their top 30 or missing the tournament altogether.
Missing the tournament altogether seems like a bit much, but Xavier should be in everyone’s way-too-early top 25, and here are a few reasons why.
Xavier is losing a starter in Zach Hankins and two other rotation players in Ryan Welage and Kyle Castlin, but the talent they have coming back stacks up very well.
Quentin Goodin had one of the highest assist-turnover ratios in the Big East last season and was a plus defender. He should only get better with another off-season of work under Steele and Ben Johnson.
Paul Scruggs took a major leap this year and became one of the team’s best players. Scruggs was a high quality defender who also displayed toughness on both ends of the court, in addition to being one of the best shooters on the team.
Naji Marshall put up stats that only he and RJ Barrett managed to crack last season as underclassmen, in addition to being the team’s best defender. After a slow start from the three-point line, he picked things up dramatically at the end of the season.
Tyrique Jones, as I’ve written about before, had a very underrated season. He was steady in every area last year, with a field goal percentage over 60% and bringing in offensive rebounds at one of the highest, if not the highest, rate in the country.
Edit: Tyrique Jones, Naji Marshall, Paul Scruggs, and Quentin Goodin have declared for the NBA draft but will not hire agents. All are expected to return, per Jeff Goodman. However, each of their statuses are up in the air for the time being.
That’s four quality returning players, and likely four starters for next year’s team, that have already had a full year of adjusting to their roles. Three of them will be juniors, while two will be seniors, which means the necessary experience will be there as well.
While the five returning players, who were at least rotation players on this year’s team, are very good, it takes more than five rotation players to really compete at the high major, Power Six, Big East level.
Assuming Jason Carter does become immediately eligible this summer, he projects to be a starter right now, sliding into the power forward spot in between Marshall and Jones.
Carter was Ohio’s leading scorer last season with 16.5 points per game and shot 34.3% from three-point range.
Xavier also has a top-20 recruiting class coming in according to 247sports.com.
Kyky Tandy, who is taking part in the Ohio-Kentucky this coming Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at Thomas More University, is an explosive scorer who surpassed 3000 career points this season. Oh, he also literally busted his chin on the rim while dunking on the 7’2” center.
He’s a consensus top-100 recruit who seems poised to make an immediate impact next season.
Dahmir Bishop rates just outside the top-100, but could also make an immediate impact next year. He’s a good shooter and has high upside as a defender. He’s coming off a state title as well.
Zach Freemantle is a big man from New Jersey who could also make an impact as a freshman next season. He’s tough and has an elite second leap, which is crucial on the glass. With Hankins gone, Freemantle could be in line for early playing time.
Daniel Ramsey is also a highly rated big man, but from Georgia. He could also be in line for early playing time due to the lack of depth behind Jones and Carter.
Dieonte Miles, who is also playing in the Ohio-Kentucky all-star game this Saturday, may be limited in his impact next season, but the 6’11” center oozes potential in how well he moves for his size and his shot blocking prowess, blocking 12 shots in three quarters in the Kentucky Elite 8.
Second year in Steele’s system
It’s almost always difficult to change systems, regardless of how much input a coach had the previous one. The team seemed to figure things out late in the season, as evidenced by the top 30 defense in the last month.
Another summer of practice in the system will benefit everyone on the team, and having guys who have played in it for a full year will help the new players adjust as well because it provides the prospective of someone who’s played it, in addition to the coaches.
The end of season turnaround
As I alluded to in the previous section, the turnaround Xavier had after the six-game losing streak is nothing short of remarkable. After a postseason appearance seemed like a long shot, Xavier finished the regular season 6-1 to end conference play 9-9.
They came oh-so close to playing for an automatic bid in the Big East tournament finals, losing in overtime to the only Big East team to win a tournament game this year, Villanova. They also pushed the NIT champs, Texas, to OT on the road.
They played like a top 30 team after the six game losing streak compared to the 110th best team before that. And it wasn’t just a hot streak to end the season, they were real threats. Once everyone figured out their roles and the system, this team was very good. Odds are that carries over to next season.
The Spain trip
While the returning players have figured out their roles already, for the most part, the new additions will still need to acclimate. Luckily for them, this year provides a great opportunity to get a head start.
Xavier officially announced last week that will take an international trip to Spain this offseason from August 7th-15th, and will play games in Madrid and Barcelona. The games will provide ample opportunity for the new players to figure out their roles and system in a real game, as well giving the returning players to learn about new ones in game action, and vice versa.
In all, Xavier is set up very well for next season. With the combination of returning talent, incoming talent, experience in the system, the way they ended the season, and the Spain trip, it’s hard to believe Xavier won’t be a top-25 team next season.
This is not to say they will be one of the best teams in the country, but this has the feel of a definite top-25 team to it.