XAVIER TEAM 97 UPDATE - 10-16-2018
By Andy Mac Williams, 10/16/2018

Travis Steele ascended to the Muskie head coaching job just over six months ago. He set three priorities from Day1 - his current players and TEAM97, his staff, and recruiting. So far so good!! Travis grabbed three quality grad transfers quickly in the volatile fast moving 5th year player market. All three fit into the rotation and fill roster holes. He lost only one player with eligibility. Kaiser Gates decided to go PRO. He was just cut by the NBA Chicago Bulls. Steele kept key basketball staffers Mario Mercurio, Jeremy Growe, Dave Fulker, Matt Jennings and Chris Barbour. They do the detail work so he can concentrate on those three themes.

Steele hired two head coach in waiting caliber assistants immediately in Jonas Hayes and Ben Johnson. He surveyed a stacked field of up and coming younger coaches before settling on a Xavier favorite son Dante Jackson.

The recruiting is going well. Four players have verbally committed to XU for 2019. Two more Top 100s will attend Friday's Muskie Madness at Cintas Center (Guard KyKy Tandy and Forward Myron Gardner). The November signing period commences Wednesday November 7th. Xavier could reel in six players. The last six man class matriculated in 2014. Three are currently contending for NBA roster spots Trevon Bluiett (New Orleans), J.P. Macura (Charlotte) and Edmund Sumner (Indiana).

To say that Travis has adjusted well to the first chair would be a considerable understatement. He's followed his plan plus he's not been overwhelmed by the job.

ON THE FLOOR STUFF:

Full practice began September 25th (40 days prior to the Tuesday November 6th Opener against IUPUI at Cintas). Steele runs tight uptempo 2 hour sessions with plenty of contact. The hated rebound bubble goes up sometimes twice per practice. Packline defense is the top priority. More aggressive close-outs on perimeter shooters, post defense and transition "D" are points of emphasis daily. Trevon and J.P. are gone. Better defense can reduce points against. More fastbreak hoops and points off turnovers can help replace their offense.

The fastbreak has to be Xavier's friend this season-not just a break even or negative category at least until the three point shooting emerges and proves itself. XU shot 77% from the free throw line last season (Top 10 nationally). Coming close to that efficiency without Bluiett and Macura and BIGS O'Mara and Kanter and Gates who all shot the FTs well may be a problem. Enter the fastbreak lay-up as a more prominent weapon!!

Gold Jerseys (best weekly practice player) have been won by 6-11 Zach Hankins and Sophomore guard Paul Scruggs so far. Both are wearing headbands as is Tyrique Jones who has slimmed to under 240 pounds.

BIG MAN depth may be a problem. Tyrique and Hankins are the only proven 4-5s. Quality not the 3 or 4 player Quantity XU is used to. Frosh Dontarius James may play up front in certain situations especially if Travis plans on squeezing 6 to 8 to 10 minutes of PT with Tyrique and Hankins on the floor together.

Scruggs has shown great improvement with the knee injury in the rearview mirror. He played so well late last season running with Quentin Gooden in the back court. That's continued. Scruggs rebounds like a small forward and defends physically. He's always in attack mode. Paul took a Tyrique elbow to the face late last week, but practiced the next day.

PG Goodin fell heavily on his left shoulder last Thursday. He's out currently,but expected back shortly. Hankins is a dynamic dunker and defender who can run all day(set the Xavier Mile record at just over 5 minutes). Kyle Castlin is a Swiss Army Knife who contributes in many areas (a less long Malcolm Bernard??).

Ryan Welage is a flat-out great spot-up rhythm three point sniper. He is doing better in defensive drills and they're installing some zone looks which fit him better. Ryan's younger brother Andrew is a very good 6-7 Junior player for Greensburg High School just over the border in Indiana. His dad Tom is an optometrist. Ryan played on two State Championship teams at Greensburg. His teammates guard Brian McIntosh (Northwestern) and Shane Sellers (Ball State).

Soph Elias Harden is improved. He can score the ball from three and off the dribble. His foot speed makes him viable defensively. He will never be the Incredible Hulk physically but he is not afraid of inside contact. Frosh guard Keonte Kennedy is not out of place.

It's crowded though on the wing and at the guard line. Naji Marshall will be the first scoring option and hopefully play 30 plus minutes. Gooden and Scruggs figure to be 30 minute plus guys. Jones and Hankins will split the "5" minutes and play some together.

The TEAM 97 puzzle is taking shape. The next three weeks will shape the roles and rotation.

THE SCHEDULE LEADING UP TO 11-6 and IUPUI:

It's a familiar pattern for Xavier. Musketeer Madness is this Friday evening (10-19) at Cintas. Festivities start at 5:30PM (see details at the top of the home page). Quentin Goodin may be held out to make sure his shoulder does not become a chronic issue. Two years ago Edmund Sumner was hammered in early January at Villanova and played with a shoulder brace until blowing out his knee against St Johns. That's when "Q" began his active streak as starting point guard. Quentin should be fine. There is no reason to rush him back. IUPUI is the goal on November 6th.

Xavier plays at Ohio State in the super secret NCAAA sanctioned D-1 scrimmage Saturday October 27th. Buckeye coach Chris Holtman is a BIG EAST friend and Butler guy. There's hope for a future series against OSU?? Ohio State helps UC reopen the refurbished Fifth Third Arena this November.

The public Exhibition Game is Thursday November 1 at 7pm at Cintas against Division 2 Kentucky Wesleyan. They are rebuilding under first year coach Drew Cooper late of Thomas More College (D-3).

AROUND THE BIG EAST:

St Johns added an important player when the NCAA ruled Auburn transfer Mustapha Heron immediately eligible. He's moving closer to home to be near his ailing mother. The NCAA has been more lenient lately in waiving residency requirements it seems. Heron led Auburn in scoring last season (16 PPG) ans scored 15 PPG for Bruce Pearl as a Frosh.

Auburn shared the regular season SEC title with UK last season and made the NCAA. The Tigers play Xavier in the Maui Classic on November 19th. Auburn is a consensus National Top 15 team even without Heron.

The Johnnies have a formidable top 4 with Shamorie Ponds, Justin Simon, Marvin Clark and Heron. 7 footer Tariq Owens transferred out though. South Carolina transfer Sedee Keita is cleared to play (6-9, 240). He played off the bench for Frank Martin's Final 4 Gamecocks two years ago. Scoring will not be a SJU problem but rebounding and defense may continue to be??? In a schedule quirk, Xavier plays St Johns twice over the final nine days of the BIG EAST season.




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