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Can Jack Nunge stay healthy?

Jack Nunge is game changer when he is on the court. Unfortunately, he’s struggled to always be there.

NCAA Basketball: Iowa at Wisconsin Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

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.

Jack Nunge is very good at basketball when he plays it. When he’s playing, Nunge is dominant on the glass, can score from all three levels, blocks shots, posts an assist rate roughly equivalent to that of Colby Jones, and knocks down 78% of his free throws. So why is Jack Nunge not a household name or at least one of those guys that always gets mentioned among the nation’s best big man? Because when he plays Jack Nunge is one of the best, but being available to play is, unfortunately, not one of the areas where the big man excels.

In Nunge’s freshman season at Iowa he averaged 5.7/2.8/1.0 in 15 minutes per game and had an 18/5/1 against a very good Ohio State team. For a freshman in the Big 10, Nunge was off to an excellent start. Just five games into the next season he played, the 2019-20 campaign, he tore his ACL. A redshirt had already cost Nunge one year, and the ACL shortened that 19-20 season. Nunge did not play the start of the 20-21 season after the sudden passing of his father, and then tore his right meniscus after appearing 22 games for the Hawkeyes. Desiring to be closer to home and his mother, Jack transfered to Xavier.

Nunge lands at Xavier as a redshirt junior already carrying a full degree in accounting. He also was Iowa’s leading scorer and rebounder (7.1/5.3/1.3) off the bench last season. Prior to getting injured he was averaging 16 minutes per game and had played over 20 on six occasions. Against Michigan State he put up 18/11/6 in 16 minutes. If that sounds really good, that’s because it is.

The demands on Nunge’s 7-0, 250 body should be marginally less at Xavier. While Nunge did play alongside Luka Garza at Iowa, there wasn’t the strength in depth that Xavier hopes to feature this year. Iowa essentially ran with three post players and Nunge ate up a lot of time in the post while still recovering from the emotional and physical damage of the previous year. Xavier figures to use less of a double post and run smaller lineups more frequently, giving Nunge a chance to play 15-20 minutes per game and have a serious impact in that time.

And the impact that he can have is significant. Xavier has really struggled with defensive rebounding in the Steele Era. Last season at Iowa, Nunge posted a 20% defensive rebounding rate. Xavier, especially the big men, has struggled from the line as well. Nunge shot 83% there last season. Xavier’s best offensive rebounder’s not named Tyrique Jones in the last two years have not even cracked the 8.5% rate mark. Nunge has been under than just once and was at 15.2% last season. If there is something that you have wanted a Xavier big man to do in the last couple of years there is a good chance that Jack Nunge excels at it.

Or at least he excels at it when he is on the floor. Jack Nunge has lost 35 games over the last two seasons. If he’s healthy he’s a weapon, but Xavier’s biggest challenge this year may be making sure their new big man can stay on the floor.