Love him (which I did) or hate him (which a bunch of extremely vocal, extremely wrong people on Twitter did), there was really no denying that Naji Marshall was a key player for Xavier last season. The numbers have been hashed and rehashed here breaking down what a uniquely talented player Marshall was during his three years at Xavier, but there is a simple fact that rate stats overlook: Marshall was the man for the big moment for Xavier. Last season Marshall hit huge shots against Missouri, UCONN, Marquette, and Georgetown with time waning that either tied or won each game, and looked to have hit a game winner against Butler before Kamar Baldwin’s lead blocker cleared Marshall out for the Bulldog to grab the headlines.
Beyond the numbers, Xavier needs to have a guy who everyone is looking to when the game is on the line. He doesn’t need to always take the shot, as Marshall didn’t at St. John’s when his drive drew the defense for him to dump the ball down to Zach Freemantle to seal the game. Xavier has a long history of late game killers from Lionel Chalmers through Tu Holloway and Trevon Bluiett all the way to Marshall. Whether it be Paul Scruggs, Kyky Tandy, Zach Freemantle, Jason Carter, or one of the new faces Xavier brings in this year, one of the keys for Xavier’s success will be someone stepping into the void left by Marshall and grabbing the bull by the horns in crunch time.