Xavier ups offense with newcomers

Scruggs and Freemantle to lead seven recruits, transfers on the court

BY Joe CLark, Sports Editor
Photo courtesy of @xaviermbb on Instagram

Xavier men’s basketball brings in seven newcomers to a roster that has a lot of returning talent, and they should be in line for an NCAA tournament appearance this season.

Xavier was projected to finish seventh in the Big East at the conference’s annual Media Day. 

“We’re excited to get this year going. Obviously with all the uncertainty that’s been going on last March, they’re really, really excited to get the season going,” Xavier Head Coach Travis Steele said at Media Day. “The Big East is going to be a tough conference again this year, as it always is.”

Xavier is implementing a new offensive system this year, one that relies more on perimeter shooting and is faster from what Xavier played the last two years under Steele. 

“Last year we were really good on defense but offensively, we struggled a lot, we couldn’t really shoot,” said sophomore captain Zach Freemantle. “This year, we have way more options, so I think we’ll be a lot more expanded on offense.”

A big reason Xavier has more options this year is their 2020 recruiting class and transfers. Dwon Odom, Colby Jones and C.J. Wilcher all have the capability to become reliable scorers for Xavier, and all three will likely play a good amount their freshman year. 

Odom is explosive off the dribble and a fantastic creator. His jump shot could improve, but he’s extremely skilled at getting to the rim and making plays around the basket. 

Jones is a reliable offensive weapon whose versatility and court vision are his strengths offensively. He has an extremely high basketball IQ and doesn’t force in the offense. He can shoot from the perimeter, but he’s probably at his best in the midrange game. 

He’s also talented on defense, and he could be a day one starter for the team. 

Wilcher is probably the best shooter out of the three freshmen, and he’s a tough player who doesn’t let up defensively.

Nate Johnson, Bryan Griffin, Ben Stanley and Adam Kunkel join Xavier as transfers. 

Johnson comes from Gardner-Webb, where he was a reliable scorer and a solid defender. He’ll get some solid run for Xavier this year, and he could be a difference maker on both sides of the ball. 

Griffin is a big man from Division II Mercy College. While he needs to speed up to the D1 game, he’s a high-level rebounder who could eat some bench minutes for Xavier. 

Griffin did have a double-double in Xavier’s second blue-white scrimmage, and he’s somebody who could definitely improve and play a bigger role throughout the course of the season. 

Stanley and Kunkel both have yet to be issued waivers by the NCAA for immediate eligibility, but the two of them are serious difference makers if they get on the floor for Xavier this year. 

Kunkel is a serious threat from long-range and was one of the best players on a good Belmont team last season. 

Stanley averaged 22 points per game last season at Hampton, and Travis Steele said that Stanley is “Big East tough.” He’ll be a good presence on the interior for the Musketeers on both sides of the ball, and he can stretch the floor and be a threat from the perimeter. 

As for Xavier’s returners from last year, Freemantle and Paul Scruggs will lead the charge offensively. 

Freemantle was a serious inside-out threat at the end of last season, and from what he’s shown in the scrimmages that hasn’t changed. He has potential to be Xavier’s leading scorer and biggest weapon offensively this year, it’s tough to cover a guy who can shoot from the perimeter, score at will inside and put the ball on the floor and drive. 

Scruggs will be a good facilitator for Xavier this year and his ability to shoot from the perimeter and drive will be key for the Musketeers. However, he may play off-ball if sophomore KyKy Tandy starts at point guard. 

Tandy is one of the best pure shooters on Xavier’s roster, and he’s shown an ability to distribute the ball and make plays in transition. He came off the bench his freshman year, but if Tandy starts this year he could see a big jump in production. 

Senior Jason Carter will start at power forward, and he’ll probably be the best defensive player for Xavier. He’s flashed offensive prowess before, and he will definitely contribute on the offensive side of the ball, but his defense really stands out. Without a ton of frontcourt depth, Carter will be extremely important for Xavier this year. 

The last returner likely to see minutes this year is Dieonte Miles. Miles didn’t play last season, but his length and ability to run the floor at 6 foot 10 inches will make him a tough matchup. Miles will likely see significant minutes off the bench for Xavier early on, and him and Griffin will compete for  time throughout the season. 

2020-21 has the potential to be a really good year for Xavier men’s basketball, as they’ll look to surprise some people and make a run in the Big East and potentially to an NCAA Tournament berth.