After the Creighton game Joel wrote a really good article about how Xavier has good pieces on the team, but those pieces are being asked to be things they aren’t. This team isn’t deep right now with actual, ready to go, talent. While the transfer portal is a thing, it isn’t a transfer window. Xavier isn’t bringing anyone in that is going to change how things are going right now.
As a quick refresher, we’re in this position because Zach Freemantle didn’t recover from surgery in time and then Jerome Hunter went down in late July with a cardiac issue. Both of those happened well after the usual recruitment/transfer moves had happened. The people on Twitter telling you that Sean Miller didn’t do enough to bring more players in don’t know the game. What you are looking at now is what was available.
Things didn’t get better when Kam Craft also needed a redshirt to recover from surgery. He was a depth option at the guard and forward positions. Kachi Nzeh played 10 sort of effective minutes against Purdue and has played a grand total of seven since. He last appeared for a minute on January 3rd. On a team desperately in need of depth in the post, Nzeh has, I’m sure much to his own chagrin, offered nothing. Reid Ducharme has played nine minutes all year. The team hasn’t mentioned that he’s going to get any sort of redshirt, so it’s possible this is a completely lost season for him.
That leaves the team with Sasa Ciani and Lazar Djokovic having to play major minutes at the four and five. Trey Green is the backup guard and Dailyn Swain is the reserve forward. That’s it and that’s all. The late fade at Creighton came when Xavier just couldn’t get a stop and increasingly exhausted looking Quincy Olivari couldn’t get away from Steven Ashworth. Xavier’s bench provided 53 minutes, nine points, and six rebounds. They didn’t add an assist and shot 3-10 from the floor.
Is there reason for hope here? Yes and no. Let’s take a quick in depth look at the bench.
Lazar Djokovic 2.3/2.5/0.7 71.7 ORtg
Those numbers kind of tell the story. Djokovic gets on the glass, especially at the offensive end, reasonably well. He is, however, shooting the ball terribly. 11-22 at the line, 8-23 inside the arc, 3-17 from three. Big yikes. He’s tall and strongish (with a terrible haircut), but he’s just not a value added member of the team right now. The last time he played well was the Villanova game. He still gets minutes, though, because there’s no other choice.
Trey Green 6.7/1.3/1.6 98 Ortg
An absolute livewire. Green has never met a situation that frightens him, even the ones that should. I’d imagine his parents spent a lot of time pulling him back from edges and fishing him out of various bodies of water. That’s excellent when it comes to his bloodless 47% three point shooting in conference play, less good when it means three turnovers against Butler or an off-balance contested 25 footer late against Creighton. Green is an excellent bench piece, but he’s not a guy you can run out to slow a game down or stop an opponent’s run. He knows one speed.
Dailyn Swain 4.7/3.0/1.4 109.7 ORtg
Swain started the last game, but he’s hardly cemented there. In Big East play no qualifying player has taken as good care of the ball as Dailyn has. His TO rate in conference play is 3.5%. That’s incredible. Dailyn can guard bigger guards and smaller forwards, but has occasionally struggled to stay in front of quick people. He blocks shots and gets in passing lanes very well. The less said about his three point shooting, the better. Like all of Xavier’s bench options he does some things very well, but some of his game just isn’t there yet. The Musketeers rebounding takes a hit when Swain comes on even as their interior scoring ticks up.
Sasa Ciani 3.0/3.5/0.6 105.8 ORtg
That offensive efficiency grabs the eye, but it dips to 96.7 against top 100 teams. It’s not unfair to say that Ciani has made hay against lesser opponents. Good luck finding those in the Big East. While it’s tempting to look at the 12 points Ciani has scored in eight conference games and say he’s not been very good, that’s missing a lot of what he does. In conference play Ciani is grabbing offensive boards at a 12.4% rate, behind just the rebound hoover that is Abou Ousmane and tucked in next to a surprisingly effective Gytis Nemeiska. He’s not setting the world alight, but Ciani’s freshman numbers are significantly better than those of Xavier legends Justin Cage and Jason Love.
And that’s Xavier’s bench. It’s a lunatic of a point guard (I mean that kindly), a swingman who can’t shoot from deep but has mostly done well defensively and in the paint, a big who keeps shooting and missing from just about everywhere, and a project big man who looks like he may have some real talent. Somehow Sean Miller has cobbled that together with his starters and found 10 wins. If even one of the bigs finds their stride, this team looks a lot better. Until then, Xavier will just keep battling their own bench.