For the first time in Xavier history, the same coach that started a postseason tournament will not be finishing it. Travis Steele handled all of his postgame duties after Xavier’s win over Cleveland State on Monday and then just... left. According to the press release, he and Xavier reached a mutual agreement to part ways. What that means is largely in the eye of the beholder. What it means for sure is that Xavier doesn’t have a coach.
Jonas Hayes is taking over the team for Xavier’s second round NIT game against Florida. Is he auditioning for a job? Maybe, but it won’t be the head coach position at Xavier. The Muskies announced the hire of former Arizona and Xavier head coach Sean Miller yesterday evening, much to the elation of the fan base. What then of Jonas Hayes? I don’t know, but he is the man for as long as Xavier is in the NIT.
Florida is in much the same situation as Xavier, right down to the fact that they, too, have already named a new coach. Todd Golden, formerly of San Francisco, has been hired for the Gators. Like X, Florida has announced an interim coach to guide them through the NIT. In their case, it’s Al Pinkins, who has been associate head coach there for three years and may well have felt like he had a claim on the full-time job when it came open.
The Gators beat Iona to get this far and they did that by doing what they usually do. The Gators are solid inside the arc and wretched behind it. That doesn’t keep Florida from shooting a ton of threes (24th in the nation in FGA ratio). They also hammer the glass at a pretty good rate and turn the ball over at about the national average. The Gators also get to the line a lot, as befitting their status as a team that does its best work inside.
On defense Florida forces turnovers and forces a slow pace. They also get absolutely butchered by teams that get on the offensive glass. That’s because they block shots at a rate better than all but 20 other teams in the nation. That is, generally, Florida’s plan. Be aggressive, force turnovers, block shots.
Of course, that was all with Mike White. Who knows exactly what the plan will be now.
|Tyree Appleby||Point Guard||Paul Scruggs|
|6'1", 163||Measurements||6'5", 198|
|In a weird coincidence, Appleby is a Cleveland State transfer. He's a pesky defender and when he does score, he does it more by volume than efficiency. He's a career 34% shooter from behind the arc; he only shoots about 43% inside it in his two years at Florida. He has good distribution numbers and has done well to rein in his previous turnover issues this season.|
|Myreon Jones||Shooting Guard||Nate Johnson|
|6'3", 175||Measurements||6'4", 192|
|Another state school transfer, Jones began his career with three seasons at Penn State. Despite his modest numbers this year, he carries a threat from deep as a career 36% shooter who hit 40% in his last two seasons in Happy Valley. He doesn't rebound or distribute much, but he's a solid defender. He dropped 23 on 7-11 from deep against Georgia earlier this year.|
|Kowacie Reeves||Small Forward||Colby Jones|
|6'6", 182||Measurements||6'6", 207|
|The starting lineup is a little jumbled - Florida has used 13 different starting fives this year - but Reeves is my best guess for the three this game. He's a lanky freshman whose role has waxed and waned this year; he started 9 in a row in January but had a stretch of 6 games in which he averaged under 10 MPG in late February. He has a solid stroke from deep but doesn't get on the glass much. He has 9 assists all season.|
|Phlandrous Fleming Jr.||Power Forward||Zach Freemantle|
|6'5", 205||Measurements||6'9" 220|
|Another transfer! This one from Charleston Southern, where Fleming averaged 20 and 7 as a high-usage, high-volume scoring big. His role has changed a bit at Florida, but he's still a big body slasher who shoots a lot of threes at a low success rate. He gets on the offensive glass fairly well and is a really statistically impressive defender. If you're looking for assists, look elsewhere.|
|Colin Castleton||Center||Jack Nunge|
|6'11", 240||Measurements||7'0" 245|
|Castleton spent his first couple of seasons at Michigan before returning to his home state to anchor their front line. He's an excellent rebounder at both ends and a very good rim protector. Almost half of his shots come from mid-range, where he's very effective. He does almost everything you'd want from a big man and is probably Florida's best player.|
A couple of other guys who you may see in the starting lineup are guard Brandon McKissic and forward Anthony Duruji. McKissic is a 6’3” senior who is at his best when he’s attacking the rim. He doesn’t do that enough, though; he posts a .374/.248/.580 shooting line and takes almost 60% of his shots from behind the arc despite being pretty bad at it. His game averages of 5.9/2.5/1.8 make him the first guard off the bench if he isn’t starting.
Duruji is a 6’7”, 209-pound forward who has battled ankle injuries late in the year. He has averaged 8.6/4.1/1.1 on the season; he gets on the defensive glass acceptably and is super efficient from inside the arc. Like many of his teammates, he shoots a lot of threes without being very good at making them.
Wing Niels Lane will probably see a good chunk of time without leaving much of an impression on the game. He shoots about once every eight minutes he’s on the floor and averages 2.9/1.9/0.5. He has been pressed into service due to injuries ahead of him on the depth chart.
-Which interim coach can get the team ready to go? If you thought playing in a tournament you had set out to avoid was a tough sell, imagine doing it as a guy who everyone knows only has temporary authority and has already been replaced. I don’t claim to have insider knowledge of... well either team, really, but my exposure to Xavier’s program has led me to believe that Jonas Hayes is very popular in the locker room. The Muskies were flat to start against Cleveland State; another such effort will mark the start of the Miller Era.
-Will Coach Hayes make changes to the rotation? Everyone with a Twitter account and a passing interest in Xavier basketball has been in our mentions asking for more of some players and a lot less of others. It’s not clear exactly what - if anything - Jonas Hayes has to lose by shuffling the deck a bit today. It will be interesting to see what the substitution patterns look like with a new man at the helm.
-How will the atmosphere be? We were talking to someone with strong connections to the program before the final game of the Steele Era this week, and he summed up the vibe by saying, “It feels like if we win tonight, eh. If we lose by 15, eh.” If Xavier is going to be in the NIT, they might as well win it, but it wasn’t evident that the Muskies or the fans were that invested early on on Tuesday. There’s certainly a different vibe now; it will be interesting to see if that translates to the Cintas Center at tip time.
-Use Jack Nunge to move Colin Castleton. A million years ago when it seemed like this season might be going somewhere, Travis Steele spurred a 29-2 run against Creighton by popping Jack Nunge to the perimeter to pull Ryan Kalkbrenner away from the rim. Colin Castleton is the same kind of rim protector, and Xavier’s success today might pivot on getting him out of the lane to let the Muskies have some room around the bucket.
-Win the freebie war. Florida has excelled at forcing turnovers this year. Xavier’s ball security has been solid, but they got themselves in all sorts of trouble with that early on against Cleveland State. Where they can get some of that back is on the offensive glass; the Muskies are pretty mediocre in that regard, but Florida is incredibly miserable in defending the glass. There will be free possessions available off of misses.
-Go ham for Coach Hayes and Team 100. This is a bizarre ending to a weird year, and the future certainly appears to be brighter, but caught in between are a bunch of guys who want to play ball and a coach leading from the front for the first time. This is likely the final time the Cintas crowd will have a chance to show its appreciation for the perseverance and fortitude required for these guys to keep the blue flag flying in difficult circumstances. If you have the chance, get down there and get loud for this group.