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Strength in Depth

Xavier’s strength comes not just from their starters, but from the guys who come after them.

NCAA Basketball: Cincinnati at Xavier Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

In the best rivalry game in college basketball, Xavier’s starters scored 27 points. They shot 8-24 from the floor and accounted for more than half of the Musketeers turnovers. None of them had more than five rebounds. Xavier won the game by 20 and led late by 27. Despite the starters never getting fully firing the Musketeers dominated the game and coasted home.

That win came because of Xavier’s bench. Yes, Jack Nunge played starter minutes, but he did it because he was on fire. On any given night someone can come off Xavier’s bench, or a starter can catch fire, and suddenly the offense jumps to another level. Eschewing defense for the purposes of this conversation, Xavier is loaded from top to bottom. Breaking down the roster by scoring tier shows just how loaded this team is.

The sure thing:

Xavier’s most consistent double digit scorer is probably not who you are expecting. It’s not a senior leader, it’s not an explosive three point gunner, and it’s not a solid rim dominating big man. No Xavier’s most consistent scoring threat is sophomore Colby Jones. Jones isn’t built to go off for 30 on any given night, but he just keeps scoring. His offensive efficiency rating for the season is 126.5. In the three games he hasn’t hit double figures he’s scored 7, 8. and 9. In one of those games he had 12 rebounds, in another he had seven assists. The kid is consistent.

Zach Freemantle would slot in here had he been healthy all season. This year he’s hit doubles once and played intelligently against UC when he could have forced himself to get there again. Once he’s up and running, and he isn’t yet, he will give X another pencil in 10+ most games.

Could go off at any minute:

Who is that guy with a treasure map on his leg, the heart of a lion, and the confidence of a rapper winning a major award? It’s Adam Kunkel. BJK has never met a shot he doesn’t like, never seen a drive that didn’t seem open, and won’t hesitate when he has a chance. All that said, Kunkel is a pretty efficient scorer and knows when not to try to force his points. He torched Norfolk St, was cutthroat against UC, and deferred in other games when he had to.

If Adam Kunkel constantly burns hot, Nate Johnson is Xavier’s explosive scorer who is more cold blooded. Nate is in the top 50 in the nation in effective field goal percentage and gets most of that from jumpers. He’ll celebrate a three, but he’s much more a sniper than an in your face gunner. When he gets hot, though, he’s a whisker of space away from going for 30 and winning a game on his own.

Set it and forget it:

Give Paul Scruggs and Jack Nunge 25 minutes in a game and they are going to get out there and make you winning plays. As fun as Saturday was, it doesn’t seem like Nunge will average 31 per game for the rest of the year. Scruggs has had some down games this year, most notably the ones in which he was taking breaks to vomit, but he was quietly second on the team in scoring in the Shootout. Both guys can get themselves into double digits in any game if they shoot enough. Both guys are smart enough to know when and where to do that.

If you are counting at home you’ll notice that is six players that Xavier could reasonably expect to get to double figure scoring on any given night. They won’t all, of course, but any of those six could without surprising anyone. But wait, as every YouTube ad tells us, there’s more.

Within the realm of possibility:

The development of Dwon Odom is hard to overstate. He’s turning the ball over too much this year, but that’s coming down a bit. Odom can get into double figures, but that’s not really what he is there. Against ISU, with the rest of the team sick, he scored 10. If he played for Duquesne, he’d score 15 a night. He doesn’t though, and he should be commended for not shot hunting to get there. As a guard with a broken jumper, he’s still quite an offensive weapon to have.

Speaking of misfiring jumpers, Jerome Hunter wraps up the Musketeers who could conceivably get into double digits in a standard game. Jerome has scored eight and seven twice this year and is bloodless from the line. If he were shooting the ball like he did last season for Indiana (54% inside the arc, 34% from three) he’d be scoring in double figures every game. Unfortunately, Hunter is still shooting the ball a lot, but he’s shooting it (and there’s no way to say this nicely) horribly. His 9-27 from two and 44% at the rim would stand out if he hadn’t taken 30 threes and only made five of them.

I mean, it could happen:

Two more players deserve some mention in terms of potential scoring. Kyky Tandy hasn’t been the player that Xavier fans hoped he would be when he was recruited. He’s had no manner of injury luck at all, has been sick most of this season, and has never seemed to recover his bounce after that initial foot injury as a freshman. All that said, he can still score on his night. In 47 career games, he’s scored 10 or more 15 times. He probably won’t do that this year because he’s well out of the rotation, but it’s not an impossibility.

Finally, Ben Stanley. Ben has battled the stupidity of the NCAA and serious injury since he arrived at Xavier, but he still shoots a lot when he’s on the floor. He’s a guy who knows he can ball and it just waiting for it to click. Like Tandy, his chances will be limited by all the depth above him, but in his last full season he played 31 games and scored in double figures in an incredible 29 of them.