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Is Zach Freemantle Xavier’s best player?

Freemantle led Xavier in multiple categories last season, but his game is not without frustrations.

Syndication: The Enquirer Albert Cesare / The Enquirer via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Rather than a full on preview for each player on the roster this year we will be attempting to focus on one question that will determine how the player might fit on the team. The questions aren’t designed to carry either a positive or negative connotation, just really suss out how the roster is built. We’ll start with the freshman and build on to the players everyone knows. We know and you know the caveats that Covid brings, so this will be the only mention of it.

Zach Freemantle averaged 16.1/8.9/1.4 on a shooting line of .513/.594/.321 as a sophomore in the Big East last season. Those numbers, on the surface, tell the story of a player improving exponentially to lead the team in scoring and rebounding while really only regressing at the line. Xavier’s offense frequently ran through Freemantle while it struggled to find footing elsewhere.

Freemantle also proved that he could dominate games at times. Against EKU he went for 24/13/2, he tagged UConn for 30/15/1, and put up 24/12/1 against Providence. In those games he was something close to unstoppable even if Xavier ultimately lost two of those three. There was almost no questioning Freemantle’s output last season for the Musketeers.

But almost isn’t the same as none. Xavier needed wins down the stretch, and their best offensive piece simply didn’t produce at times. Against Marquette Freemantle turned 29 minutes into 6/6/0. In the final game against Butler, one that Xavier desperately needed to win, Zach had 14/7/4, but also turned the ball over five times and made only half of his free throws. When the team needed their best player to come up big, he didn’t.

The other complaint about Freemantle is his defense. Teams realized last season that his effectiveness away from the basket is essentially nil. When Coach Travis Steele tried to go with double bigs, opponents would rotate their four onto Freemantle’s side and then pull him away from the bucket. Isolated in space, the sophomore forward struggled to stay in front of anyone. This caused both a dip in his block rate (down .8% from his freshman year) and forced Xavier to play Freemantle almost solely in a role where he could defend near the basket or play Jason Carter in combination with him. Neither of those options worked well.

Ultimately, Zach Freemantle has the offensive game to dominate in the Big East. His a career 33% three point shooter who can also get inside and do serious damage. His array of moves in the post and his willingness to work away from the basket make him a difficult matchup for teams with all but the very best athletes. It’s no exaggeration to say he is one of the very best forwards in one of the very best conferences in the nation.

Whether he can be the player that Xavier needs in order to return to the NCAA tournament remains to be seen. For Xavier to be elite, Freemantle needs to show that he can take over games not just in December and February, but also when they matter in March. Shoring up his defense will go a long way to helping that. If he does that, if his defensive game and mental toughness hit the levels of his offense, the Teaneck native, and his team, will be close to unstoppable.