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Player preview: Which Zach Freemantle will show up?

Xavier’s big forward can either be their best player or something far less than that.

Syndication: The Enquirer Joshua A. Bickel / USA TODAY NETWORK

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.

Zach Freemantle is a great player. He had a season in which he averaged 16.1/8.9/1.4 on 51.3% shooting. He’s had games where he was unstoppable, including piling up 30/15/1 against UConn or a valiant 18 point game the day before Covid cancelled everything. He’s hit game winners in conference games, scored 18 in an NIT semifinal, and finished second in the conference in defensive rebounding rate with an unholy 25.2%.

Zach Freemantle is a destructive presence for Xavier. In a vital game against Seton Hall last season he went for 4/1/1 in 25 minutes and picked up a technical foul for standing over a prone opponent and yelling at him. His defense can be a liability at best, especially in games where he seems to sulk defensively if things don’t go well offensively. His lack of effort at times is utterly infuriating.

So which guy does Xavier get? Well, both of them. Zach Freemantle apparently contains multitudes. When he is at his best he can be unstoppable. As a freshman and sophomore he played on the ragged edge of angry, seemingly bent on proving something to the world. Last season he walked into the team after an injury, never really was challenged for his playing time, and spent large portions of most games acting like a diaper baby.

That changed again in the NIT. Faced with a new coach and no longer safe under the indulgent blanket of the coach who recruited him, Freemantle became Big Frosty again. He averaged 12.6/7.6/1 on 55.8% shooting. In one game so far this year, a trimmed down Freemantle went for 14/7/3 and once again looked determined to make an impact. He also did it without pointless antics.

The issue will come when things don’t go Freemantle’s way. Sean Miller yanked him and some other underperformers in the Morgan St game and gave them a piece of his mind. This time, Freemantle responded and turned up his defensive intensity (and he wasn’t the lone issue). Will that be the case all year long? Coach Miller won’t put up with someone slacking or with needless dramatics. This is the same guy who essentially told Stanley Burrell, his team’s returning leading scorer, to shoot the ball less.

Freemantle has been at his best when he plays with something to prove. Faced with a Xavier legend on the sideline who has the cachet to bench whomever he sees fit, whenever he sees fit, there is plenty to prove. If Freemantle responds poorly, he’ll have a long season. If he responds well, though, he could be a dynamic force that makes Xavier a genuine contender.