A winter break can be a good thing. Winter, objectively, sucks horribly and the more of it that can be skipped, the better. This is less the case with a long break in basketball. There is no real positive that can come from a basketball team not playing basketball. In that there is no shape like game shape, there is equally no shape like 19 days on the shelf shape.
Pre break Xavier had been having a season that had swung wildly between encouraging and depressing. A demoralizing stretch of four games in which the Musketeers made heavy weather of beating EKU was erased by a blistering stretch in which UC, Oklahoma, and Marquette were swept aside. That gave way to a dreadful performance at Creighton and a hiding from Seton Hall before X once again bounced back. Exactly how good this team can be remains a mystery.
Still, there have been themes through the season. To remind you of what exactly had happened before the Musketeers went on their hiatus, here is a primer.
Yes, this is pretty self evident. Xavier has missed enough games now that they have almost no chance of making it to 20 Big East games. No team in the Big East has played as few conference games as the Musketeers have. Players have been hit with virus, other Tier 1 personnel have had it, players on other teams have had it. Covid has dominated this season. Enough of that though.
The freshman are quite good
Dwon Odom has an assist rate of 28.8% against a turnover rate of just 17.3%. Colby Jones does literally everything up to and including jarring game winning three pointers. CJ Wilcher has gotten healthy and shown that he’s not afraid of any shot at any point in time. These guys have shown that they are just as billed when they were recruited. Xavier is a much better team when Odom is on the floor, as was evident when they didn’t have him, and he and Jones have combined to start 12 games. Wilcher was sick and then had to work his way in, but way back in Xavier’s last game he hit two big threes to keep the Musketeers in touch early. It’s all good here.
Paul Scruggs is a dog...and he’s not alone
Paul Scruggs added muscle this offseason and then came back like a stronger, tougher, angrier version of himself. He’s always been and utterly fearless snarling presence who was first on the floor for a loose ball and first to a teammate who needs some bucking up. He is quintessential Xavier. This season his line of 13.8/3.6/6.3 is excellent and also somehow undersells him.
But he’s not Xavier’s only slightly unhinged (in the best possible way) on the floor this season. Adam Kunkel joined the team late after waiting for the NCAA to do the right thing and has wasted no time. Even before the game starts he’s a dancing, singing, mustache wearing, lag tattooed livewire. Kunkel is also completely unafraid to throw his body about the court and completely unafraid to want the ball at all times. Kunkel’s shot hasn’t fallen a lot yet, but he has hardly let that stop him. He wants the ball, the spotlight, all of it. He’s brilliant fun to watch.
Kyky Tandy has vanished
Last season Xavier waited and waited for Kyky Tandy to get on the court. When he did, he delivered the kind of performances that fans had been waiting for. He wasn’t always on it, but he showed enough to more than merit the amount of hype he had gotten. This season he started with a bang, pouring in 24, 18, and 10 in a stretch against Toledo through Tennessee Tech. Since then he hasn’t played more than 15 minutes or scored more than six points. In Xavier’s last game he was a semi-healthy DNP. Something is going on with Kyky Tandy, and it isn’t positive.
We don’t know if Xavier is good yet
KenPom has Xavier at 49th, Bart Torvik has them at 41st, and the NET has them at 36th. That’s a wide span and doesn’t really tell us a great deal about the team. The offense is good, but stutters, the defense is bad, but can be great. X crushed Oklahoma and was in turn hammered by Seton Hall. There isn’t enough of a consistent sample to tell exactly what the baseline is. Despite all that, Xavier appears on 73 of 74 brackets that have been released so far. Hopefully we have time now to learn how good this team can be. All we can do is hope.