The college basketball off-season was far from calm. His pace feels like a Formula 1 race.
As with almost any program, a lot has happened for the Xavier University men’s basketball team since the end of last season, especially the cadres and coaching team.
Here is a look at the events of the last few weeks and the important questions that still need to be answered in the future.
Head coach Travis Steele has to replace three members of his coaching staff. Assistant Ben Johnson took the job as head coach at his alma mater in Minnesota. Special Assistant Matthew Graves traveled to Indiana State where he will be the assistant head coach. Strength and conditioning coach Matt Jennings has been promoted, so the Musketeers are looking for a new strength coach for men’s basketball.
There were some concerns that assistant coach Jonas Hayes might get an opportunity that would turn him away from the Musketeers, but Xavier announced on Friday that Hayes had been promoted to associate head coach so he will stay on Victory Parkway for the time being. Having Hayes with us feels like a big off-season win. He was an invaluable recruiter and increases the overall camaraderie of the team.
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Steele has a heavy workload ahead of him to replace these three posts on his staff, but the good news is that for the 2021-22 season the roster looks and feels like it’s ready to roll.
That wasn’t necessarily the case a month ago, as so much was still undecided.
Paul Scruggs and Nate Johnson, who have chosen to return as seniors in their fifth year, have made a big change in the look of the next season. The same goes for the addition of Iowa transfer Jack Nunge, who recently signed with the Musketeers. Nunge is a versatile 6-foot-11 post player who is recovering from recently dealing with two serious knee injuries. A healthy nape would help strengthen Xavier’s forecourt, and he has at least two seasons left, possibly three if he takes advantage of the COVID-19 free year like Scruggs and Johnson.
Four players entered the transfer portal from last season’s squad, but only three. KyKy Tandy entered and decided to return to Xavier. CJ Wilcher moved to Nebraska. Daniel Ramsey joined Tennessee Tech. Jason Carter returned to Ohio University where he began his college career.
This means that Xavier currently has 12 scholarship holders, although it is actually only 10 scholarships, as Scruggs and Johnson do not count towards the 13 scholarships due to the free additional year of the NCAA due to the pandemic.
With six experienced backcourt players who can all score, the guard position should be a strength next season. Dwon Odom, Colby Jones and Adam Kunkel all return with Scruggs, Johnson and Tandy.
The six-person forecourt will again rely heavily on Zach Freemantle, who had a breakout season as a junior last year. The rotation around Freemantle should become much more noticeable when everyone is healthy and lying on the ground together this summer. The musketeers had to add the nunge piece. He can rebound and get out and shoot at the perimeter.
Redshirt’s sophomore Dieonte Miles should also be in the mix for the season. Miles needs to stay healthy and develop his body, but last season he gave insights into what he can bring in limited time.
Ben Stanley is another name that has a big question mark on it. Hampton’s 6-foot-6 transfer only played four games last season before tearing up its ACL on Jan. 6. Its effects over the next season will depend entirely on how and when it recovers.
Two incoming newbies could flow into the rotation. Elijah Tuckers is 6-foot-8 and Cesare Edwards is 6-foot-10. The coaching team likes both, but it’s hard to predict how quickly newbies will get used to the college game. If either of them can step in and play for a few meaningful minutes, that would be an added bonus, much like Odom and Jones did as newbies last season.
It is likely that Xavier’s roster build is complete, but with up to three scholarships remaining, adding another player is out of the question for the Musketeers.
The Enquirer can confirm a report by Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports that Xavier will be part of the NIT 2021 Preseason at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, along with the other headliners Memphis, Iowa State and Virginia Tech.
As for the rest of Xavier’s non-conference schedule, much remains vague at this point due to the devastation caused by the pandemic.