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Season Preview: The Returners

Xavier is counting on a couple of rising Sophomores to help set the tone this season.

Kennesaw State v Xavier Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

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.

The last time Xavier ranked as low in minutes continuity as they figure to this season was 2013, when the departures of Tu Holloway, Mark Lyons, Kenny Frease, Andre Walker, and Dez Wells left fourth year head coach Chris Mack with what turned out to be too many gaps to plug as the team struggled to a 17-14 record and bowed out in the first round of the A-10 Tournament. While we have covered the new talent Xavier was able to attract this off season, the two guys Xavier returns from last season’s team that are fit and ready to go at this point will be crucial if Xavier wants to avoid a repeat of the hard reboot from 2012’s Sweet Sixteen appearance to 2013’s rebuilding season.

The person on whom a lot of the hopes will be placed is 6’6” Desmond Claude, who was named to the Big East All-Freshman team last season. Claude averaged 4.5/2.5/1.9 last season, playing 21 minutes per game when available. The raw numbers undersell just how much Claude came on as the season progressed, with 4 of his best 5 scoring outputs coming in the month of March. Much of this was due to the dramatic uptick in success from beyond the arc as Claude shot 8-19 from deep in conference play after opening the season 4-18 and looking like a player who lacked confidence in his shot. Claude’s struggles with turnovers were typical for a Freshman who finds himself on the ball frequently in high major competition, but his knack for creating turnovers himself came to the fors as he gained experience, culminating in a 4 steal performance against Creighton in the Big East Tournament. Xavier will likely task Claude with more of an off the ball role this season with Dayvion McKnight and Trey Green both presenting as solid options at the point, meaning his improved jumper and ability to create for his teammates will be the focal points of his game in the coming season.

Kam Craft entered last season as the higher ranked of Xavier’s Freshmen, landing 24 spots ahead of Claude’s 89th at 65. Craft only appeared in 15 games last season, losing most of February and March to a left knee injury before returning for one minute in the NCAA Tournament loss to Texas. The timing of the injury could hardly have been worse for Craft and Xavier as it came on the back of his best performance in Big East play, posting an 8/4/1 line on 3-6 from the floor in a win over St. John’s. Craft showed some promising flashes last season and ended up shooting a solid 35% from three, so Xavier will be hoping that he can continue to develop a feel for his all around offensive game, his overall efficiency was hamstrung by his team high turnover rate, while maintaining his high energy style of play and commitment to using his 6’6” frame to help control the defensive glass.

The prevailing wisdom is that college basketball players typically experience their greatest leap between their Freshman and Sophomore seasons and Xavier will be hoping that is the case for these two. While Claude is by far the more well known and somewhat easier to project, he logged over 500 more minutes last season than his classmate, there is plenty to suggest that both have potential to make significant and necessary contributions as Xavier seeks to chart a fortuitous path through the unknown this season.