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Are the kids alright?

Xavier’s freshmen started well, but have slid toward the bottom of a shrinking bench.

NCAA Basketball: Xavier at St. John
Des Claude struggled to finish on Wednesday
Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Tyrell Ward, Desmond Claude, and Kam Craft were supposed to be the building blocks of Travis Steele’s biggest class to enter the Big East. The three of them were going to be a class that carried Xavier up the rankings, especially when augmented by the transfer portal. Instead, Travis Steele left, Sean Miller came, and we are now well into a season where none of the three has made much of an impact for Xavier.

The reason Tyrell Ward hasn’t helped Xavier much is that he decommitted when Steele left. Ward was supposedly the big piece of the class and LSU was more than happy to take him in. So far this year, Ward has posted 5/5/0. Those aren’t his per game averages, those are his total contributions for the season. He has played 35 minutes spread across seven games. To say he hasn’t lived up to the four star hype would be understating it.

That brings us to the two guys currently playing, or at least dressing, for Xavier. The return from Craft and Claude has been sporadic at best so far this season. Even with Xavier’s short bench, the Musketeers are 279th in the nation in bench minutes, the freshmen are averaging a combined 26 minutes per game. That’s less than each of Xavier’s five starters play on their own.

Kam Craft, especially, has felt the pinch. His 92.9 offensive rating isn’t awful, though it’s not good at all, and his shooting has been effective both inside (61.5%) and outside (38.5%) the arc. What Craft cannot do is hold on to the ball. His turnover rate of 30.9% is worst on the team among players who have appeared in 10 or more games. That inability to hold on to the ball limits Craft’s effectiveness. Too often he appears to be slightly out of control and chasing the ball more than using it.

That has meant that the best team Craft has played double digit minutes against this season is 178th Montana. He didn’t appear against Seton Hall or St. John’s and only got two minutes against the hapless Georgetown. He is, quite simply, not ready for the Big East.

Desmond Claude leads the Musketeers in minutes off the bench, thanks in a great deal to the sustained violence of Jerome Hunter. His offensive rating is 78.9, which is terrible. His turnover rate of 29.6% is driving that in much the same way Craft’s is (though Claude only has three turnovers in the three conference games so far), but Claude also simply cannot score the ball. He’s shooting 36.8% from the floor, 21.4% from behind the arc, and just 46.7% from the line. That is, obviously, appallingly bad.

Des Claude does do one thing that Kam Craft hasn’t mastered so far, and that’s play good defense. That was visible last night when he harassed the eminently harassable Andre Curbelo into 2-9 shooting and occupied the shooting lanes well. He even was pretty effective getting downhill with the ball, but he simply cannot finish.

That doesn’t mean these freshmen are hopeless. One of Claude’s closest comps as a freshman on KenPom is Jagan Mosely, and he turned himself into a very good player on some very bad Georgetown teams. Both players seem mostly hampered by things that hamper freshman. The game looks too fast for Craft, Claude isn’t used to everyone being as big and athletic as he is. Both of those things can be corrected before this class joins the Keonte Kennedys and Elias Hardens of the Xavier world. Whether they will or not or whether these guys become just another trivia question remains to be seen.