Standing less than two months between the start of the 2022-23 college basketball season, and in many ways, the environment around the Xavier University men’s basketball team is very different from that period last year.
New boss, which is actually Xavier’s old boss. New assistant coaches. New strength trainer. Some players graduated, many returned, and three new Scholarship players joined the roster of the team that won the National Invitational Championship six months ago.
Here are 10 ideas for the upcoming season.
The return of Shawn Miller
When Xavier split from Travis Steele in March, Miller quickly emerged as the best candidate, and it only took a few days for the two parties to agree on a deal.
With Jay Wright’s retirement at Villanova, Xavier is now one of the most experienced and winning coaches at the Big East Conference, a conference held by Miller in Pittsburgh.
Miller’s 422nd career was ranked third among the active coaches in the Big East, behind Craigon Greg McDermott (556) and Butler Thad Mata (439).
Miller is a proven coach who can compete in the NCAA Championships and compete for the conference championships. He’s more than capable of getting Xavier back to where he expects it to be.
The question this season is what Miller can do with the roster that he inherited almost all of the former coaching staff.
Colby Jones’ potential
There may have been some production gaps over the past two seasons. Perhaps you can attribute it to growing pains, or order, or perhaps the surrounding pieces weren’t always perfect.
One thing is for sure: If Colby Jones can put together an entire season the way he finished last year, and win the National Invitational Tournament MVP award, Xavier could have a superstar in the Big East and beyond.
Over the last 11 games last season, Jones averaged 14.7 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 3.8 assists.
Talk to The Enquirer over the summer about areas he wants to improve. Last season, Jones shot 29% from the 3-point range and 68% from the foul streak.
Jones is a strong defender, a great activist, and a playmaker. He can handle the ball and make the right moves – he has proven it. If he can be productive outside of the arc and more efficient at the spoiled line, he will check all the boxes.
play point guard
The base’s position has not been very reliable for the past four seasons. For several reasons, this position lacked consistency and productivity.
Xavier is hoping Sully Baume can change that in his UTEP transfer deal. Boom’s greatest attribute is his ability to score and reach the free throw line. Last season in the UTEP, Pom played 37 minutes a game and averaged 19.9 points, which ranked 23rd nationally in the entire Division I, and his 172 free throws were eighth nationwide.
“I felt needed here”:From Mosswood Park in Auckland to Xavier, meet Sully Boom
If he can take care of the ball and make it easier for his teammates, then he can stabilize that mode and allow Xavier’s offense to run more efficiently.
Boom will get some help. Desmond Claude, the new starting guard, did well over the summer, according to coaches and teammates. Claude is a real keeper. He will have a chance to make an impact as a new student.
Over the past four seasons, shooting around Xavier has been a glaring problem. Of the country’s 353 Division I teams, Xavier’s 3-point shot ratio has ranked in the bottom half nationally over the past four years (236, 282, 229 and 250, respectively).
This is the product of picking picks, who is trying to use 3 pointers, and how often. Xavier doesn’t expect to hit a potentially nasty shootout from the ocean again.
Adam Kunkel will probably get the most oceanic looks this season. He had 162 three-pointers last season and made 33% of them.
It will not only fall on Kunkel’s shoulders. Boom hit 37% of 3 points last season. Jack Nong is a capable behind-the-bow shooter. Zach Fremantle and Jerome Hunter must be more eclectic than deep. Fremantle and Hunter were a combined 26 for 112 of 3 last season.
The greatest thing Freshman Kam Craft got out of high school was getting shot. It may take a while for that to translate to college level, but if it does, it can really help Xavier’s external arsenal.
Another option could be older KyKy Tandy, who is finally in good health after needing end-of-season surgery last year. According to several accounts on the show, Tandy has changed his body and is in great shape. If he can find his way to the ground, he is one of the best shooters on the list.
Schedule and commentary loom
A quick tour through the non-conference portion of Xavier’s schedule, and it’s pretty clear he’s assembled for a team expected to be in the NCAA Championships next March.
The Knights play Indiana and West Virginia at home, Cincinnati on the way, and they head to Portland on Thanksgiving for the Phil Knight Legacy, where they open to Florida, then either Duke or Oregon State, and the third game could be against Gonzaga, Purdue, West Virginia, Or Portland.
It’s a tough schedule and could be even more challenging depending on the looming potential suspension for Miller, arising from the NCAA wrongdoing issue from his time in Arizona.
It is still unclear when this decision will be issued. He could come in October before the season starts, which would be useful. Xavier will know how long Miller will be and what games he will miss. It can also be determined later, perhaps after the season has already started.
As the decision goes down, assistant coach Adam Cohen is expected to serve as Xavier’s coach in any match Miller might miss.
Xavier’s experience should be a strong point. It’s a safe assumption that Xavier’s starting lineup will be Baume, Konkel, Jones, Fremantle and Nong.
These five players played in a total of 460 college basketball games during their career with 268 games between them.
This should blend in well with a new coach who has 17 years of experience and has won 73% of his matches, but it may take some time.
Beyond the start, Xavier isn’t without depth either. These competitions are ongoing and it will be useful to see who will win minutes off the bench.
Nong played a lot last season, scoring 26.5 minutes per game for a man who was coming off his second major knee injury and only started training a few weeks before the season started. When Xavier immersed himself in team play, there was an extension last season where Nunge looked a bit exhausted.
With a full training period under his belt, we hope he’s better prepared for this season. Even then, it will be important to keep your Nunge as fresh as possible throughout the season.
He was arguably the best player last season Xavier, leading the team in scoring (13.4), rebounding (7.4) and blocking shots (50).
Behind the Nunge, Xavier actually has three other real big guys in Freemantle, Dieonte Miles, and Cesare Edwards.
Fremantle will be on the ground. He can score and if he commits to rebounding, he can help Xavier at both ends of the earth.
But this third man will be important.
Miles and Edwards played to a limited extent last season. Miles played early in the season when Fremantle missed due to a foot injury. Edwards played more at the end of last season. They offer different styles. Miles are more mobile and affect the game more on the defensive end. Edwards plays aggressively and is more aggressive. These contrasting approaches could allow both to play, but it remains an intriguing battle for who will be the first big man to sit on the bench.
The blueprint makes the team
Miller knows how he wants to play. During last season when he wasn’t coach, Miller talked on the podcast about how he was able to watch a lot of basketball, study analytics, and put a lot of thought into how he wants to play when he returns to coaching.
He has said that he wants to play faster than any of his previous teams. Talk about how he likes the look of having two goalkeepers tackle the ball on the ground together to help accommodate that rhythm. He wants Xavier to be a man-to-man defensive team that has the ability to jump into a zone at times.
One of the most interesting things to watch this season will be how different Xavier looks compared to last season. They’re pretty much the same players with two exceptions, but how the scheme changes and the way everything works can be very different.
Xavier can’t count on his starting lineup all the time. Someone on the bench, preferably two or three players, needs to fill important roles and has to be trusted to do so.
The two most obvious answers are the freshmen – Claude and Kraft.
Craft brings ambient firepower to a team that has struggled shooting lately. Claude offers consistency and reliability in the back area, another area that has been falling short.
For new students, it’s a process. Learn defense jargon and understand how to make the right decisions. If they both manage to get through this process successfully, there is no reason why they can’t affect the team.
Two other options could be Miles and Tandy. Both were members of the 2019 Xavier Recruitment Class and neither found their spot in the rotation. Early evidence suggests that they both had strong summers. But will that continue into the season?
Rigidity on the finish line
No one needs to be reminded of how Xavier’s last few seasons ended.
February and March were the disappointing months at Victory Parkway. Strong teams are only starting to fade along the sprawl. It’s the most compelling reason the Knights haven’t been in the NCAA tournament in four years.
That’s why Miller is back – to grow the toughness needed to finish the season stronger and better than when he started.