Big East basketball promises to be a fight in 2019-20, with any number of members having the pieces to go into the season considered a championship contender. In a conference as strong top-to-bottom as it, every time on the court counts.
That’s why Xavier’s trip to Spain Aug. 7-15—airing on FloHoops.com and the FloSports app—means a great deal to the Musketeers.
Next year’s Big East includes perennial title contender Villanova, which has upped its recruiting prowess commensurate with winning two national championships under Jay Wright. Both Seton Hall and Marquette retain two of the most prolific scoring guards in college basketball.
Xavier’s different, but there’s as much of a case to be made for the Musketeers as Big East contenders as their counterparts. Xavier does not have a long-tenured head coach, like Villanova; Travis Steele is beginning his second year at the helm. The Musketeers do not bring back an obvious Naismith Award candidate, as Seton Hall and Marquette do with Myles Powell and Markus Howard.
However, the 2019-20 Xavier lineup is experienced. Four Musketeers who scored in double-figures during the 2018-19 campaign are back: forwards Naji Marshall (14.7 points, 7.2 rebounds per game); and Tyrique Jones (11.3 points, 7.7 rebounds); and guards Paul Scruggs (12.3 points, 4.9 rebounds, 3.3 assists) and Quentin Goodin (11 points, 4.8 assists).
Not only is the Xavier roster veteran, but it began to hit its stride down the stretch a season ago. Steele’s first season taking over for current Louisville coach Chris Mack hit some bumps early, with the Musketeers falling to 11-13 almost two-thirds of the way into the campaign.
"We went through a six-game losing streak and everybody said it was over,” Jones told the Cincinnati Enquirer in March. We tried to get an NCAA berth and came a call away in the Big East Tournament from getting there.”
A stretch winning 7-of-8 throughout February and into March sent Xavier surging into the National Invitational Tournament. The Musketeers finished with 19 wins, beating Big East heavies Creighton, Seton Hall and Villanova along the way. Few programs headed into this offseason with quite the same momentum, given both what Xavier overcame during the season and what it has returning to the campaign to come.
The three games played in Spain are Xavier’s first opportunities to restart that positive trajectory. Establishing team chemistry should not be an issue: Three of the big four returners ranked in the nation’s top 500 among all players for assist rate, per KenPom.com.
Unselfishness plays a key part in Xavier’s offensive identity. The Musketeers ranked 56th in the country for adjusted offensive efficiency, and were 31st in field-goal efficiency inside the 3-point arc. Combined with a solid offensive rebounding rate, and Xavier has the foundation to be one of the most dangerous scoring teams in college basketball in 2019-20.
An element to watch in Spain that will play a key role in XU’s regular season: Its defensive strides.
Long a program defined by its defensive prowess, the Musketeers ranked in the 100s nationally in a variety of categories on that side of the ball. The shorter possessions played under FIBA rules will have Xavier playing a faster style than is customary in the Big East.