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What to make of Xavier’s rosy 2021-22 projection

The first metrics site to release projections for next season is very high on the Musketeers.

Big East Men’s Basketball Tournament - First Round
Adam Kunkel is projected to have many reasons to smile next year.
Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

One of our favorite stat gurus here at Banners is Bart Torvik. The Torvik rankings have appeared alongside Ken Pomeroy’s eponymous KenPom as one of the best measures of a college basketball team and one of the better ways to project an NCAA tournament field as the season goes along. Torvik starts to put data into the next season’s projections as soon as the previous season ends. As transfers go in and out things get tabulated until the first release in April.

That first release of projections has Xavier at #18. That is an enormous jump for a team that finished in the 60s in most computer numbers last season. It’s also the basis for a lot of the hope going around Xavier Twitter right now. But why is that number so high? Xavier peaked at 33rd in the Torvik and 45th in the KenPom last season. What would merit such a big jump?

Returning talent

Xavier brings back their entire rotation except Jason Carter, their top eight scorers, eight of their top nine in minutes per game, 81% of their minutes overall, and 83% of their possessions used. Bringing experience back, especially when that experience was young last year, matters. Just as important will be the return Nate Johnson and Ben Stanley from injury. Xavier’s offense was nearly elite when Johnson was playing, very close to awful without him. Johnson also made Xavier’s defense significantly better. Ben Stanley is all effort and was already demonstrating he could score when he suffered his knee injury. The talent that Xavier is bringing back is seasoned and ready to play.

One important addition

Jack Nunge, recently of Iowa, will have a big impact on the Musketeers if he can stay healthy. Torvik projects the big to average 4.6/4.6/1, numbers that don’t jump off the page. That rebounding number is projected to be second on the team and, frankly, is likely a little low. Travis Steele will play with two bigs if both are capable offensively. In Nunge he now has a foil for Zach Freemantle that should allow Xavier’s junior forward to operate in the spaces away from the basket where he is more comfortable. Nunge could allow Steele to use the four outside of one sets that are becoming all the rage in college basketball. A serviceable shooter himself, Nunge could even let Xavier experiment with five out sets. Most importantly, though, he adds some steel in the paint.

Development

Colby Jones and Dwon Odom both had excellent freshman seasons. Unless they peaked there, there is every reason to believe they will be better in the coming year. Jones was a jack of all trades who played 27 minutes per game and stuffed the stat sheet. Odom was brilliant with the ball all season long and, jump shooting aside, was an offensive weapon off the bounce. His further progression will allow Paul Scruggs to do what he does best. The future is bright for both.

The forgotten man in the backcourt for Xavier may be Adam Kunkel. Kunkel was well aware as he came to Xavier that he didn’t have a body built for Big East play. Given the chance, though, he made the decision that anyone would have and played rather than spend a season watching from the bench. Kunkel did everything that a sharpshooting guard should do except actually get long range shots to go in. He shot 62.5% inside the arc, led the team in steal rate, and was a high effort presence all year. Given a summer to get himself ready he will come back ready to regain the shooting stroke that made him such a good acquisition.

That is how a team projects to jump from the 60s in the computer numbers all the way up to #18. The return of so many rotation players, and the healthy comeback of Nate Johnson and Ben Stanley, coupled with a big addition and the further development of the younger players on the roster will stand Xavier in good stead. There are no excuses now. This is a team built to compete.