By Luke Feliciano | Sports editor
Through the first four Big East Conference games, Xavier men’s basketball stands with a 1-3 record.
While the Musketeers may not have had the kind of success they have hoped to achieve in the early go of conference action, there is still plenty of time to improve as league play wages on.
In the face of adversity and facing somewhat of an uphill climb, head coach Travis Steele believes the team’s true character will shine through – especially playing against several NCAA tournament-caliber opponents.
In the hotly-contested Big East, any game has the ability to present a degree of difficulty. Here are some takeaways from Xavier’s play thus far in the conference schedule.
1. Underclassmen are making more contributions
A few new faces have entered the fray as contributors to the Xavier cause. Two underclassmen in particular – sophomore forward Dontarius James and freshman guard KyKy Tandy – have received extended minutes.
James, who has been praised on multiple occasions throughout the season by Steele for his work ethic in practice, had arguably his best game of the season. In that game, he posted six points and eight rebounds in 25 minutes.
Similarly, Tandy has seen more time in the rotation and the results have been apparent in the team’s three-point shooting. In the road loss against Villanova, Tandy netted the Musketeers’ only three-pointer of the game late in the second half off the bench. Against the Red Storm, all four of his made field goals were from distance, which was good for 12 points.
Xavier’s current starting lineup is built around upperclassmen with more experience. However, utilizing the underclassmen in the rotation for both developmental and depth purposes will be essential for the rest of the season.
Add in freshman forward Zach Freemantle into the mix of younger players who receives minutes as the No. 2 big man in the lineup and Xavier has the potential to be a well-rounded team should these players make steady contributions.
2. 3-point shooting is improving
Xavier did not start off the year shooting well from beyond the arc – at one point, the Musketeers ranked in the bottom tier of the nation for three-point field goal percentage. And while the shooting percentage from deep still hovers slightly below the 30% mark, there have been positive signs of enhancements being made in that area compared to where the team was shooting in the month of November.
Take junior guard Paul Scruggs as a microcosm of this trend. He hasn’t been shooting an abundance of threes in the recent stretch of games, but more importantly, he has been taking quality shots and converting them. In Xavier’s last three games, Scruggs has gone 6 of 8 from 3-point range, including his 3-for-3 performance at home against Seton Hall. This figure complements his already efficient overall scoring numbers.
3. The impact of the grad transfers
Like many teams across the country, Xavier annually recruits graduate transfers who are looking for opportunities with a high Division I program. This year’s grad transfers, Jason Carter and Bryce Moore, are each important pieces to the rotation.
Carter, who often finds himself in the starting lineup, had a bit of catching up to do when he was sidelined for about a month with a back injury. Though, in Xavier’s last two games, he has shown what he can bring to the table.
As a forward who has the ability to stretch the floor with his shooting capabilities, he can be impactful on the offensive end.
In 24 minutes against Seton Hall, he scored 14 points and in the most recent contest against Creighton, he played all but two minutes of the game while scoring eight points.
Carter has been dinged up a few times throughout the season with various minor ailments, but at full health, he can make a significant difference.
Moore, who comes off the bench as the Musketeers’ sixth man, also finds himself in opportunistic situations. Although heralded for his suffocating defense, he can also shoot from range in his own right.
Earlier this month, it was revealed that Moore had sustained a minor knee injury in the beginning of the season.
Thus, his minutes have been limited lately. Moore is another player who certainly adds tenacity on both ends of the floor, thus his presence on the court can add a spark.