Thanksgiving weekend is something of an unofficial kick off to the college basketball season. Teams that have gorged themselves on cupcakes finally test themselves against some real competition on neutral sites spanning the continent and the clock. If you’re awake and have a satellite dish, chances are there’s an interesting game on. Off the back of that, some teams take a moment to recharge their batteries before plunging through the holiday season and on into conference play.
Xavier has chosen to take that route by scheduling Southeastern Louisiana for the week after they get back from the Phil Knight Invitational. SeLa is not good, but they aren’t as bad as they could be. They’re helmed by head coach David Kiefer, who is in his fourth year in charge. The team took a nose dive in his transition period, going 16-41 in his first two seasons, but they bounced back with a decent 19-15 showing last year.
Under Kiefer, the Lions play fast and force a lot of turnovers. They were floating around the top 25 in defensive TO% his first two years before dropping back a bit last year, but it’s still discernibly a strategic focus. They’ve never finished better than 327th in defensive EFG% under Kiefer - though they have finished exactly there twice in three years - and are fairly porous on the glass. This all adds up to a really bad defense. On offense, they get to the line a ton and have shot more threes and done less offensive rebounding every subsequent year. They try to force the tempo on both ends.
Leading scorer Gus Okafor averaged 14.6/6.4/1.8 last year and was at the center of everything the Lions did; he parlayed that into a spot on Wichita State’s roster this year. His frontcourt running mate Jalyn Hinton put up 13.8/8.0/2.5 and led the team in rebounding; he ran out of eligibility, which ended his career. The same fate befell assists leader Keon Clergeot, who is now playing in the Slovokian first division. Three players in, we’ve deleted the top three scorers and the leaders in each of the three main statistical categories. Rough.
But wait! There’s more! Guard Joe Kasperzyk has ghosted as well, taking his 10.8 PPG with him to Niagara this season. Also no longer on the roster is fifth-leading scorer Ryan Burkhardt. I can’t find definitively where he went, though it looks like maybe he just ran out of eligibility. It’s hard to tell for sure in the post-covid landscape. That’s everyone who averaged more than 6 PPG or grabbed more than 600 minutes last year out the door.
Roscoe Eastmond will be back! He’s a 5’9” guard who averaged 5.8/1.8/3.1 as a sophomore last year. His assist rate was 23.8% (which is okay) but his ORtg was just 77.5 (which is bad) because his turnover rate was 32.9% (which is awful). He’s the leading returning scorer and assister; wing Roger McFarlane averaged 5.4/4.3/0.8 and is the leading returning rebounder. He got 17.2 MPG as a freshman last year and was an efficient if unspectacular offensive player.
Rounding out the returners of note is wing Nick Caldwell, who averaged 4 PPG and shot a stunning 43.8% from the free throw line.
I haven’t checked yet, but this is going to have to be something special.
How about a whole new backcourt? Guard Boogie Anderson comes in from South Dakota, where he averaged 6.7 PPG last year. He doesn’t distribute much and is a career 0% shooter from three on 0 attempts. Christian Agnew joins from UTEP. He was a big time scorer at North Alabama his first two years but never forced his way into the top of the rotation as a Miner. He averaged 5.2 PPG in two years there and is a career .396/.292/.704 shooter.
Further down the chart is Medhi Pissis a big-body guard out of France who probably spends a lot of time correcting people on the pronunciation of his last name. He averaged 9.5 PPG on .344/.358/.849 shooting at West Plains Community College last year. His brother Sami is a freshman on this year’s team. Finally, Donte Houston, Jr. is a big man out of Texas-Rio Grande Valley who averaged 4.7 and 2.8 as a freshman last year. Some or all of these guys are going to need to contribute in a big way for this team.
Not great, Bob. Take a team that struggled to get out of the 300s in the KenPom and boasted a best win of @Nicholls State and strip mine it of everything resembling talent, and what you’re left with is this shell of a roster with no clear focal point. If this team goes anywhere, David Kiefer is definitely the best coach in the conference and possibly the best in the world. It’s tough sledding in the low-major ranks, so much the more now that players can transfer a little more freely - and the Lions are going to feel that this season. If a loved one is a walk-on at Xavier, buy tickets to this game.