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Player preview: Is Jack Nunge Xavier’s best player?

Colby Jones gets a lot of the plaudits, but Xavier’s most important player may be the unassuming big man.

NCAA Basketball: NIT Final-Xavier vs Texas A&M Gregory Fisher-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.

When Xavier needed a bucket last season, they looked one place. Whether that was a dominant performance against UConn and Adama Sanogo or the winning bucket in the NIT championship, Jack Nunge was the man for Xavier when they needed one. He did everything for the Musketeers, up to and including being the 18th most efficient player in the nation offensively.

Throw in some elite rebounding and shot blocking and you have a complete player. Complete and “the best” are different things, though. The best player on a team can’t just be a good player, he has to lead, be on the floor a lot, and be willing to defer or take over as the situation dictates.

To the first thing, there is no question that Nunge stepped into the leadership void left by Paul Scruggs’ injury. Jack isn’t a loud guy by nature and doesn’t appear given to extreme displays of emotion, but his teammates gravitate to him on dead balls and in stoppages. Your typical leader? No. A leader? Yes.

Last season Nunge was one of only two Musketeers (Dwon Odom) to play in all 36 games. He played the third most minutes on the team (only Colby Jones returns with more) and increased his minutes share from 27.8% in his last season in Iowa to 65.1% for the season and 71.7% on conference play. Despite being a big with a history of serious injury, Nunge answered the bell all season for the Musketeers.

Finally, he made the biggest shot of the season. Between the 2:02 mark when Colby Jones made a jumper and Nunge’s game winner, Xavier had misses from Adam Kunkel and Zach Freemantle. When it came time to win the game, it was Nunge who got the ball and got the job done. Best players don’t shrink from big moments.

The knock on Nunge would be that he’s not going to break someone down and get his own shot. You can’t throw him the ball at the top of the key and let him go get his. That isn’t his game and Xavier doing that would make them a worse team. For people used to LeBron, Kobe, Tu Holloway, and other real killers getting the ball and getting theirs, Nunge is a different animal. He’s reliant on others to get him in the spot to do his work.

How you judge Xavier’s best player depends on what you want. Colby Jones is more the prototype and he’s a great player. Jack Nunge is efficient and excellent. Any team would be lucky to have either. Xavier has both.