Xavier basketball was rolling to a nerve-wracking end to the season, then a global pandemic hit the brakes so hard I went right into the windshield. We’ve shaken ourselves off a bit here and will continue, somewhat belatedly, with our breakdown of one of the weirdest Xavier seasons on record.
Xavier was lacking a go-to guy after Naji's freshman year when Tre, JP, the coach and most of the staff, and pretty much every high-usage player graduated or moved on. How you see what Naji did in the two years since depends largely on how you want to perceive the young man.
A cynic might see Marshall as having stepped into a vacuum and promoted his own name. He had the ball in his hands for pretty much every big play over the course of two years, despite the fact that he shot under 30% from behind the arc and had a meaningful problem with ball security.
Someone more inclined to naïvety might see Naji as a dude who tried to do whatever the team needed, often to great effect. He banged a handful of huge threes for the Muskies, laid the ball off for Zach Freemantle in a big situation at MSG, and generally shouldered responsibility for the outcome of the game when it got down to brass tacks.
Whatever your view, there's no questioning that Naji put up a monster line last year. On a usage rate of 26.7%, he threw up a game line of 16.8/6.3/4.0. If you're scoring at home, that's Naji leading the team in points and assists and ranking second in rebounds. His versatility at both ends allowed Xavier to go big or small and defend any way the personnel dictated, as Naj was able to hold his own against just about anyone in the conference.
The hiccups in his game were twofold: shooting (especially from beyond the arc) and ball security. His shooting line of .445/.286/.710 was submarined by a 44-154 mark from deep. The fact that he took 5 threes per game despite hitting at such a low rate was the subject of much discussion among Xavier fans.
On the ball security front, he turned the ball over 3.4 times per game - 104 times in total - and had a TO rate of 20.4%. This is obviously not ideal for the guy you're trusting to get the game across the line in big moments.
Like many of Xavier's stars this year, Naji suffered from a slightly square peg/round hole situation. With Q not having enough shooters around him to be effective, Naji had to take over some of the on-ball responsibilities. Naji's skill set lends itself to attacking a moving defense, where his length and various scoring moves from twelve feet and in can be dominant, but too many times he found himself attacking into five defenders packed beneath the free throw line because Xavier couldn't bring them out. The results were mixed, but the effort never was.
Naji did enough to find himself with real professional prospects, and he chose to pursue those instead of coming back to Xavier. In the right spot, it's not hard to see him as a valuable bench weapon in the league or a perennial star overseas. His career at Xavier didn't come to the end he might have hoped, but Muskies fans got to see him develop into a star in his time at Cintas.