This season was not a success for Xavier. The team and program have progressed to the point where making the NCAA tournament is an expectation, not a goal. Regardless of all of the changes, the NIT will never feel like an accomplishment for X. That doesn’t mean that the season wasn’t without some successes scattered in there. Those, and the things that didn’t go as well, combine to form what we learned from 2018-2019.
The process works:
Travis Steele started the season shakily. The inconsistent (mis?)use of Elias Harden that baffled all season long started in the first tournament. The offense didn’t tick to begin with, and the defense was appalling. As the season went on, though, and Steele adjusted, he bested coaches considered to be better than him on consistent basis. On Xavier’s nearly season saving run, Steele outcoached both Ed Cooley and Doug McDermott.
More than that, Steele is bringing in a top 20 recruiting class and has already added two more grad transfers. His reputation as a recruiter is certainly safe, and that of an in game coach continues to grow. The defense that cost Xavier their season early was among the nation’s best by the time X’s new man finally had a chance to put his fingerprints on it. There’s no doubt that Xavier’s commitment to the Xavier way paid dividends.
Process doesn’t trump talent:
Xavier has the top end talent to play with anyone, three players remain in contention to have their names called in the NBA draft (and Naji Marshall just dropped out), and Zach Hankins was an elite post by the end of the season. What Xavier didn’t have was depth or the consistency from that talent to turn this into a successful season. The incoming class will address that issue, as will the aforementioned grad transfers. That promising change aside, this season demonstrated that even one of the best process programs in the nation needs the horses to make it work.
Tyrique Jones is legit:
If Jones returns from the draft Xavier has one of the best big men in the conference. Jones led major conference players in offensive rebounding (and was third in the nation) and kept an elite 119.4 offensive rating despite an increase of nearly ten minutes per game. His 62.4% shooting mark demonstrated how hard he had worked to turn himself into a legitimate offensive force.
Zach Hankins is awesome:
I did not know that prior to this year. Zach came in and promptly added himself to a long list of Xavier grad transfers that will not soon be forgotten.
The younger players were not:
Elias Harden, Dontarious James, and Keonte Kennedy needed to be useful part if Xavier was to have success this season. Harden tantalized with some genuinely excellent games but couldn’t put it together. Kennedy and James were simply non-factors all season long. Kennedy has since landed at TCU and Elias Harden at Jacksonville State. James remains at Xavier, but faces a serious battle for playing time.
Even a down year Big East is excellent:
The Big East had a dip this year. Fully two teams failed to finish in KenPom’s top 100 and only 40% of the league made it into the NCAA tournament. Despite that appalling dip, the Big East was still fifth in the nation as a conference and both Xavier and Villanova figure to be better next year. Georgetown has a backcourt worth building around, and St. John’s has ended their experiment of not having a head coach. The conference will bounce back next year and be excellent, rather than just really, really good.
Basketball is still the best:
There were times this year when it was more difficult than normal to get excited for a Xavier game. That didn’t keep us all from tuning in, and this team more than rewarded the patience. No, there wasn’t an improbable run to the Sweet 16, but the Musketeers battled for all they were worth down the stretch. A run born of equal parts motivation and desperation left the Musketeers just a hair short at the end, but reminded us all why we are fans.