Xavier enters transition season with new coach, roster
CINCINNATI (AP) — With a senior-laden team, Xavier won its first Big East regular season championship and got its first No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. A second-round loss abruptly ended everything and began a transition that’s still in progress entering the new season.
Coach Chris Mack left for Louisville and was replaced by Travis Steele , his top assistant. Five of the top seven scorers are gone, including Trevon Bluiett, who averaged 19.3 point per game. And the Musketeers find themselves with a lot of newness as they open the Steele era.
“It’s just getting used to everybody being here — the new coaches, the five new players we’ve got,” junior point guard Quentin Goodin said. “There’s people you’ve never met, from places you’ve never been to, and all that comes together and you gel.”
No matter who was the head coach, the Musketeers would have been expected to take a step back because of the turnover from their 29-6 season. Their top three scorers were seniors Bluitt and J.P. Macura (12.9 points per game) and graduate transfer Kerem Kanter (10.9).
What’s left is a roster with limited experience in Xavier’s system. Three graduate transfers will fill it out, but they have to get used to playing a different style.
“It’s about chemistry,” Steele said. “Even though some (graduate transfers) are older, the terminology, the system — they don’t know it. Getting guys used to knowing the system, playing together and trusting each other is the biggest hurdle we have to cross. We’ve come a long way.”
Five things to watch with the Musketeers:
NEW LEADER: Goodin was among the players who lobbied for Steele to get the head coaching job, providing stability in the program. Steele is staying with Xavier’s offensive and defensive systems, though tweaking them to account for the significant roster change. Goodin said Steele has kept most things the same.
“Nothing’s really different,” Goodin said. “He’s the same guy who recruited me. He hasn’t changed one bit since he got the head coaching job. I feel he’s one of the most consistent people we have here.”
TRIO OF GRADUATE TRANSFERS: Forward Zach Hankins set school records for blocked shots and field goal percentage at Ferris State. Guard Ryan Welage set the school record for 3-pointers in three seasons at San Jose State. Guard Kyle Castlin is a team captain after coming over from Columbia, where he averaged 10.5 points and 3.8 rebounds per game. All three are counted upon to play significant roles during their one season at Xavier.
YOUNGER LEADERS: With no seniors who came up through Xavier’s program, the Musketeers are counting on Goodin, junior Tyrique Jones, and sophomores Naji Marshall and Paul Scruggs to provide more leadership as the newcomers learn their way.
“Being a point guard, you’re going to be a leader on the floor,” Goodin said. “Everybody’s going to be looking to you. More than anything, that weight on my shoulders is the newest thing for me this year. They’re going to be looking to me. I have to deal with it.”
GETTING DEFENSIVE: Xavier’s defense slipped last season, often allowing teams to go on long runs that got them back into games. The perimeter defense was a problem in particular. Steele has tweaked the Musketeers’ man-to-man defense to try to get more turnovers and transition baskets.
“For our team this year, we may not be as gifted at shooting the ball after losing Tre, J.P. and (Kaiser) Gates,” Steele said. “We’ve got to create more turnovers and score off our defense.”
NEW BIG EAST LOOK: The top two teams in the league have undergone significant roster changes — Xavier the regular-season champion and Villanova the national champion. With those two teams in transition, there’s room for others to rise up in the league, especially in the early going.
“Two totally different teams,” Goodin said. “It’s going to be fun.”