Paul Scruggs returns for Xavier basketball

The deepest team in the Big East features the potential conference player of the year in Zach Freemantle. Can Xavier basketball put it all together?

Xavier basketball has an extremely deep roster that could still see 10-11 players see the floor once the season hits conference play. It could be a challenge getting everyone to buy in to share the rock, but the Musketeers are a sleeper team to win the entire thing.

Three elusive perimeter players in Paul Scruggs, Nate Johnson and Colby Jones will allow Xavier to play fast and in transition. Zach Freemantle and Jack Nunge are two big bodies that can use their size to outmuscle most Big East opponents.

The bench features a few shooters, a positionless player in Ben Stanley and a 4-star recruit looking to push for playing time on this veteran roster. It goes without saying that Xavier basketball has plenty of weapons to use.

To view teams ranked 37-100, click here.

Projected Rotation

PG: Paul Scruggs (6-5, 200, Sr.)

2021 stats: 14.0 points, 5.7 assists, 4.0 rebounds, 1.6 steals, 32.5 3P%

Projected Stats: 13.3 points, 6.1 assists, 4.2 rebounds, 1.3 steals, 33.7 3P%

SG: Nate Johnson (6-4, 194, Sr.)

2021 stats: 11.4 points, 4.2 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.2 steals, 45.2 3P%

Projected Stats: 9.5 points, 3.8 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.3 steals, 42.3 3P%

SF: Colby Jones (6-6, 203, So.)

2021 stats: 7.7 points, 4.8 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.3 steals, 33.3 3P%

Projected stats: 10.1 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.1 steals, 35.5 3P%

PF: Zach Freemantle (6-9, 216, Jr.)

2021 stats: 16.1 points, 8.9 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 0.9 blocks, 0.7 steals, 32.1 3P%

Projected Stats: 17.7 points, 8.1 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.2 blocks, 0.7 steals, 34.4 3P%

C: Jack Nunge (7-0, 247, Jr.)

2021 stats: 7.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 0.9 blocks, 29.8 3P% (Iowa)

Projected Stats: 8.4 points, 6.5 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 1.0 blocks, 28.1 3P%

6: Adam Kunkel (6-4, 180, Sr.)

2021 stats: 7.0 points, 1.6 assists, 1.3 rebounds, 1.0 steals, 26.5 3P%

Projected Stats: 6.2 points, 1.9 assists, 1.5 rebounds, 0.8 steals, 33.7 3P%

7: Jerome Hunter (6-8, 215, Jr.)

2021 stats: 6.3 points, 3.0 rebounds, 34.2 3P% (Indiana)

Projected Stats: 5.1 points, 3.8 rebounds, 33.4 3P%

8: Dwon Odom (6-2, 181, So.)

2021 stats: 6.6 points, 2.9 assists, 2.6 rebounds, 0.7 steals

Projected stats: 3.9 points, 2.7 assists, 2.4 rebounds, 0.8 steals

9: Ben Stanley (6-6, 225, Sr.)

2020 stats: 22.0 points, 7.2 rebounds, 33.3 3P% (Hampton)

2021 stats: 6.0 points, 1.8 rebounds, 4 GP (ACL)

Projected stats: 6.5 points, 3.1 rebounds, 35.0 3P%

10: Kyky Tandy (6-2, 197, Jr.)

2021 stats: 6.6 points, 1.3 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 35.6 3P%

Projected stats: 4.7 points, 1.1 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 36.2 3P%

11: Dieonte Miles (6-11, 226, So.)

2021 stats: 2.6 points, 1.3 rebounds, 0.9 blocks

Projected stats: 3.1 points, 1.8 rebounds, 1.1 blocks

12: Cesare Edwards (6-9, 225, Fr.)

247Sports 4-star rated recruit

Projected stats: 1.5 points, 0.7 rebounds

Team MVP: Zach Freemantle

There are a few players who will be on the shortlist of favorites to win Big East Player of the Year and Zach Freemantle is one of them. The junior big man should lead the Musketeers in scoring once again, given his ability to finish down low and stretch out behind the three-line.

Freemantle is a complete player, not relying just on his scoring to make a difference on the court. He’s a top-notch rebounder and passes well for a guy listed at 6-foot-9. If all goes well, he’ll have a shot to lead the Musketeers to their best season since 2017-18.

Make-Or-Break Player: Colby Jones

Xavier is another team where players won’t ever have to hold too much of the weight because the extra COVID year and influx of transfers create a historically deep roster. However, Jones is a player that shined as a freshman, and if he takes another leap forward can bring the Musketeers to an even higher level.

Jones has a somewhat slight frame, rebounds well on the wing and has a nice shot that should improve with the confidence of one year in the books.

Jones had ice in his veins last season, hitting the game-winning shot against Providence.

Bench Rating: 10/10

I don’t usually hand out many tens so Xavier basketball better feel special about this one.

At guard, Kunkel, Odom and Tandy are more than enough to fill in for the trio of ball-handlers in the starting lineup. They’re all more than capable of making shots and creating offense, which isn’t something you always see. If there’s one thing about this Xavier team it’s that most of their players aren’t just one-dimensional.

At forward, Jerome Hunter and Ben Stanley will allow coach Steele to change the pace on offense. Depending on if they play the three or the four position, it can give the Musketeers a more physical unit on the floor, especially if combined with Freemantle and Nunge.

Dieonte Miles is a shot-blocker that could end up playing a lot more minutes than I’ve projected. He averaged about one block per game as a freshman not even playing seven minutes a game. If he stays around, he can be the star of the future for Xavier.

Finally, Edwards is a freshman who will really have to fight for minutes on this older team. But as a 4-star recruit, he’s clearly got the talent and provides more depth in the frontcourt for a Xavier basketball that’s already well off there.

Analytic to Know: MRAR

The mid-range shot isn’t dead! Xavier ranked ninth in this analytic which measures how many of a team’s shots come from mid-range per 100 trips upcourt. The play of Scruggs and Freemantle, being able to knock down threes and finish inside gives both a lot of opportunities for shots between 10 and 15 feet, which if open, should never be turned down. They search for shots with a lot of crisp passing and some teams will be caught off guard by the mid-range takes.

Considering Xavier is a team that brings most of its players back, this should be an interesting stat to follow again this season. Steele could opt to turn to a more three-point-oriented attack, but if this is how the Musketeers are able to excel, don’t fix it!

Team Outlook

Xavier basketball could push for a really good seed, but right now, I like them around the 7-10 range. Villanova and UConn are the favorites in the Big East, but if the Musketeers improve, they could make it a three-team race for first place.

The challenges for really good wins early on are there for this squad. Xavier draws Ohio State in the Gavitt Games and Iowa State in the NIT Tip-Off. Depending on how that game ends, they will play either Memphis or Virginia Tech two days later. Oklahoma State and Cincinnati round off their non-conference tests before the bulk of Big East play.

It goes without saying that this Xavier basketball team has all the makings of a second-weekend NCAA Tournament team. A 13-8 (6-7) record in 2020-21 isn’t appealing, but the COVID year was weird. This team has a lot of obvious talent.

Xavier basketball players Zach Freemantle and Dwon Odom
(Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

Projected Conference Finish: 3rd in Big East

Projected Postseason Finish: NCAA Tournament Round of 32 Exit

Ceiling: NCAA Tournament Elite Eight Exit

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