We’re back! The summer was over. It was filled with two baseball teams that flattered to deceive, an excellent Women’s World Cup, and the oppressive humid heat that comes with Ohio in the summer. That’s all in the past now. College basketball, praise God, is back. With that comes your favorite (just go with it) brother-run Xavier site. The podcast will be back soon, but for now we’re jumping into previewing the team that will take the court for Xavier this year.
Looking down Xavier’s depth chart at the guard positions a year ago goes a long way to showing why the team was able to accomplish what it did. Souley Boum led the team in minutes and was a revelation in his lone season of high major college basketball, garnering First Team All-Big East honors and earning an honorable mention spot on the All-American teams. Colby Jones was Second Team All-Big East and was second only to Boum in minutes and scoring. Adam Kunkel kicked in 10.8/3.0/2.8 on a team best 42.5% from deep and lagged just behind Jack Nunge in minutes, taking the 4th spot. All that to say, when Xavier went portaling this summer, the obvious gaps were in the backcourt, where only Desmond Claude returned out of players who averaged more than 10 minutes a game. Xavier knew they needed guys who could come in an immediately fill the gaps left by that trio of departures.
Taking up the task of keeping Xavier ranked among the most deadly attacks from deep, last year’s 39% ranked them 4th in the nation, is Rice transfer Quincy Olivari. Olivari entered the portal as one of the most proven shooters in college basketball, having hit 252 threes in his four years at Rice including 94 of them last season. For his career he has shot at a .407/.378/.776 clip and averaged 18.7/5.9/2.2 last season as he was named Second Team All-CUSA. What jumps off the page as abnormal about Olivari for someone who is listed at 6’3” is his rebounding prowess, something he honed especially during his Junior season as he battled an injury to his shooting arm that ultimately ended his season after 20 games. That speaks to the energy with which Olivari plays, always looking to make a hustle play in order to give his team their best chance. He also showed out in big games last season, averaging 21.5 points in a pair of conference matchups with Final Four bound Florida Atlantic, and dropping 22 at NIT Champs North Texas and 28 at Elite Eight bound Regular Texas. In losing Boum and especially Kunkel, Xavier needed an established shooter to come in and keep the floor stretched and Olivari fits that bill perfectly, bringing a well established track record on the defensive glass and a knack for hustle plays as well.
Dayvion McKnight is decidedly not a catch and shoot option, preferring the role of distributor and doing his scoring from inside the arc. He took 87% of his shots from inside the arc a season ago, where he converted at a 55% rate when he got to the rim and 42% when he didn’t. In fact, no player in CUSA made more two point baskets than McKnight did a year ago. He is not blessed with exceptional height, listed at 6’0”, but uses his strong build and hard nosed mentality to assert himself even against larger defenders. His toughness and quickness also show themselves on the defensive end, where he rates out as a plus defender and has come within a whisker of averaging 2 steals per game the past two seasons. If shooters like Olivari can keep the floor stretched for Xavier, McKnight figures to capitalize with the skillset that has led to him averaging 16.3 points per game over the past two seasons. Xavier went into the portal looking for a steady hand at the wheel who would back himself to go toe to toe with the high caliber guards in the Big East and they got one in the former Kentucky Mr. Basketball, who made First Team All-CUSA as a Sophomore and joined Olivari on Second Team last season.
This Xavier season is going to be unfamiliar territory in that a program that has long depended on developing players and roster continuity will feature exactly one player who has played more than 20 minutes in a game for Xavier when the season tips. Players who have been around the block and proven themselves like Olivari and McKnight can go a long way in charting a prosperous path through the unknown for the Musketeers this season. This coaching staff showed last season that they can find gems in the transfer portal without having to grab the biggest names and in these two players there is the potential for them to be proven right again and see Xavier reap the benefits.