The Xavier Sweet 16* features all 19 Xavier teams from the KenPom era in one bracket where Twitter polls will decide the winners. Here’s your 13 seed, the 2020 Xavier Musketeers!
Travis Steele was in just his second year at the helm after a first season that saw several ups and downs. Steele had made the promise in his first press conference as head coach that he would turn his team into a defensive machine. His first team got it together defensively in February to fuel a late surge that landed them a bad call away from the tournament. His most recent team was a cut above on defense though. It is the best Xavier defense since the 2009 squad and top 3 since the turn of the century.
While the defense was definitely the strong point for Steele and the players, the offense was nothing to write home about. A season offensive efficiency of 106.1 ranked them 103rd in the nation and 7th in the Big East. The offensive struggles came from wretched 3-point shooting (31%, 282nd), appalling free throw shooting (65%, 319th) and issues with turnovers. Steele was not the one taking the shots or turning the ball over, but at times still seemed hesitant to make big changes to the offense. He is still very much learning on the job, but he showed more versatility and quick decision making, even if it wasn’t quite the finished product yet.
The returning core of Naji Marshall (16.8/6.3/4), Tyrique Jones (14/11/1.5), Paul Scuggs (12.7/4.5/2.9) and Quentin Goodin (6/2/3.1) was the base that this team was built on. Joining them were transfers Jason Carter (6.9/4.9/1.4) and Bryce Moore (2.5/1/.5). Along with those guys was the hyped up freshman class of Tandy, Freemantle, Bishop, Ramsey and Miles.
Depth looked like it would be on this squad’s side towards the start of the season, but that turned out to not be the case. Bishop transferred closer to home before December was through, Miles took a redshirt, Ramsey was sidelined with knee issues, Moore’s knee kept giving him issues and Goodin ended up tweaking something in his knee in January.
After all of these calamities, Scruggs and Marshall shared the point guard spot, Carter moved further from the bucket, Freemantle was put into the new starting five and Tandy was the first man off the bench. This team’s looked changed considerably from November to March, but even then the guys worked as hard as they could to make something of it.
The Muskies stormed out to a 6-0 start with a couple scares against Missouri teams and a double OT win over Connecticut. The first stumble was against where X lost to a good team but looked really bad doing it. Poor 3-point shooting and turnovers were the issue, but even then X stormed back from 17 down and a had a game-tying shot in the air. After that were a couple buy games before the Crosstown Shootout. Naji Marshall ran pretend tough guy Jarron Cumberland ragged the entire game and ended with 31 points while all Cumberland could do was limp around and chuck up bad 3s. An away loss to Wake Forest was immediately countered by a win at TCU to round out the non-con schedule.
Xavier was picked to finish 3rd in the Big East preseason polls so hopes were somewhat high going into conference play. The away loss to Villanova started the season before X returned home and beat St John’s. After that was a three game skid, a win over Georgetown and two more losses, including the double OT home loss to Marquette. At this point it seemed like nothing was working and that this team just didn’t have it in them.
Right after that gutting loss to Marquette came the win of the season for the Musketeers, a road win over Seton Hall. This snapped the Pirates 10 game winning streak and led straight into two more wins over DePaul and Providence. In all three of these games Tyrique Jones grabbed 18 rebounds and posted double figures on three of the best interior defenders in the league. Losses to Butler and Nova snuck into the picture but Xavier sat at 19-10 overall and 8-8 in the league. One more win would do it.
Unfortunately though, it didn’t quite work out that way. X ran into the hottest hand in the conference in Luwane Pipkins and, without Paul Scruggs, fell just short at Providence. No matter, because it would be Senior Day in the Cintas and Butler was stumbling through the end of the season. Two clutch shots from the two best players on the court came in the final 10 seconds. Unfortunately, it was Kamar Baldwin’s shot that proved to be the winner. Xavier ended 8-10 in league play and would lose to DePaul in the opening round/final of the Big East Tournament.
It was fitting that a season this tumultuous would have a strange ending, but no one quite predicted it this way. The day after X lost to DePaul, the news basketball fans didn’t want to hear broke: conference tournaments are cancelled. This was followed by the news that March Madness itself would not go froward. In just 11 days, Xavier had gone from 19-10 and looking good for the tournament to, just like everyone else, being told to stay home and wash their hands. It was perhaps the weirdest season in history since it never really got an ending.