Big East Key Questions: Villanova and Xavier

Posted by Brad Cavallaro on November 4th, 2019

Villanova: Will the Wildcats’ offense be as effective without a clear go-to guy?

Jay Wright Wonders Where His Offense Will Come From (USA Today Images)

Villanova’s roster last season was missing a perimeter creator and Jay Wright clearly had expected 2018 Final Four MOP Donte DiVincenzo to have filled that role. Seniors Phil Booth and Eric Paschall were terrific on their own, but a supporting cast led by Joe Cremo and Jahvon Quinerly fell woefully short of preseason expectations. Collin Gillespie began to flourish when Booth assumed the go-to scoring role, but he looked overmatched as the lead ball-handler. Saddiq Bey and Jermaine Samuels showed great promise as well, but neither created for themselves very often.

The 2019-20 Wildcats do not have any unforeseen departures, but they did lose the only two players in Booth and Paschall who could consistently put the ball in the basket. A strong group of returnees is bolstered by an excellent freshman class, but it is difficult to see how the Villanova offense moves forward. When you factor in the fifth-year seniors’ wealth of experience and essential contributions, an adjustment period feels inevitable.

Still, most prognosticators disagree. Despite finishing 30th in KenPom last season and losing their two most productive players, the Wildcats are expected by many to be significantly better this season. Villanova has been consistently ranked as a top-10 team in most human polls and computer metrics. I expect Villanova finish closer to 20th nationally. Their defense has elite potential with great positional size and versatility, but the losses of Booth and Paschal — especially on the offensive end — are being undersold. Multiple players will need to take major leaps in their skill set development to become consistent shot creators. Freshman Bryan Antoine was the most logical candidate until his season was jeopardized with a shoulder injury. Bey and Justin Moore could fill that role eventually, but it is probably too soon to place that burden on them. Perhaps big man Jeremiah Robinson-Earl can add an interior scoring punch, but will that be enough?

Xavier: Was last year’s end of season push a mirage or a sign of things to come?

Travis Steele Enters Year Two of His Helm at Xavier (USA Today Images)

The Travis Steele era of Xavier basketball did not get off to a smooth start. A disastrous six-game losing streak in Big East play ceded to Naji Marshall exploding during a late-season stretch (20.7 PPG, 6.8 RPG, and 37% three-point shooting) in which the Musketeers won six of their last seven games to close the regular season. And even though the Musketeers failed to make the NCAA Tournament, the strong close served as a real reason for optimism for the upcoming season.

Xavier’s core should be even better with another year of experience. Quentin Goodin and Tyrique Jones both averaged double figures last season and have been key contributors throughout their careers. Paul Scruggs is a breakout candidate who could even find himself on NBA Draft boards before the end of the season. If Marshall’s stellar play carries over from the end of last season, then the Musketeers will be poised to make a run into the top tier of the Big East.

However, the supporting cast, consisting almost entirely of newcomers, could ultimately determine Xavier’s fate. Outside shooting is a clear weakness within the core group, but Steele looks to have addressed this problem with a pair of transfers. Bryce Moore will provide lethal three-point shooting off the bench after shooting 39 percent from three in his last season at Western Michigan, while Jason Carter, the likely fifth starter, will add spacing as a skilled four. Between these two veteran additions and Xavier’s strong recruiting class, their supporting cast should be sufficient. The main area of concern is in the frontcourt as Zach Hankins, who was the team’s best player at times last season, will be replaced with a group of unproven freshmen bigs.

If Xavier’s core of Marshall, Scruggs, Goodin and Jones plays to their capabilities, Moore and Carter hit perimeter shots, and one or two freshmen can contribute immediately, this is a Top 25 team. The major questions will be answered by what version of Xavier’s core we see — the explosive team that finished strong last season, or the one that sputtered for most of the year.

Brad Cavallaro (16 Posts)

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