Analysis: There are a lot of positives to glean from the early-season tourney
Newswire photo by Desmond Fischer | Graduate transfer guard Kyle Castlin commands a consistent presence in the Xavier rotation. He has been part of the starting lineup every game this season and put together three strong outings in Maui last week.
For the first ever time in program history, the Xavier men’s basketball team had the opportunity to compete in the Maui Jim Maui Invitational in Hawaii.
The three-day tournament, which was held over Thanksgiving break, gave Xavier a chance to test itself against some of the top programs in the country.
Notable teams in the tournament included top-ranked Duke, No. 3 Gonzaga, No. 9 Auburn, and Arizona.
While Xavier only came away with a single win against Illinois on the final day of play, they showed that they can compete with anyone in the country.
Taking Auburn to overtime and San Diego State down to the wire aren’t just fluke performances — it shows that this team can be a contender in a Big East Conference that is wide open this year. Here is what we learned about the men from the Aloha State.
The veterans are for real
After losing multiple players that had 3+ years of experience, it was known from the start that new leaders would have to emerge on this team. In Maui, we saw these new leaders emerge in junior Quentin Goodin, sophomore Naji Marshall and graduate transfer Kyle Castlin. Each player had their moment in Maui. Goodin gave you a basket when you needed one, Marshall supplied a consistent effort on both offense and defense, and Castlin provided a controlling floor presence.
Sophomore guard Paul Scruggs also had a productive tournament, scoring in double digits in each of the three games. If these players build on their performances in Hawaii, the team around them will improve as well.
This team goes deeper than you think
Entering the season, depth was the biggest question surrounding the team. No one knew who would be able to come off the bench and provide solid minutes.
An answer to this question was found in Maui, as graduate transfer Ryan Welage, sophomore Elias Harden and freshman Keonte Kennedy all had great showings.
Welage led Xavier with 17 points in the Auburn game, while Harden and Kennedy posted career highs in the win over Illinois.
If the team can have multiple double digit scorers every game like they did in Maui, putting up points won’t ever be an issue for an already solid defensive team.
Presence in the paint
The duo of junior Tyrique Jones and graduate Zach Hankins continues to become deadlier and deadlier with each passing game.
Both players had excellent showings in Maui, as each player averaged over eight points per game throughout the tournament.
If Xavier can continue to get these two the ball when they are on the court, Xavier will win the points in the paint battle nearly every game.
Eliminate the miscues, and this team can and will do damage
Two of the biggest problems the Musketeers ran into while in Maui were turnovers and rebounding.
These aren’t normally issues with a Xavier basketball team, but with a new coach and inexperienced players, some growing pains will happen. The key to eliminating these issues is to trust your veterans with the ball and give maximum effort on the glass.
If and when Xavier cleans up these small mistakes, this team will be a top-3 program in the Big East this season. Maui was a great learning experience for Team 97, and has certainly prepared the team for upcoming conference play.
By: Colin Cooper | Staff Writer