Can Xavier ride its NCAA tournament momentum to future success?
- After Xavier's surprising run to the Elite Eight in the 2017 NCAA tournament, don't expect the Musketeers to fall off next season, particularly if Trevon Bluiett returns.
The college basketball off-season is long and largely lacking in major news developments. Programs are still finalizing their 2017 recruiting classes and sorting out which of their players will return for another season or jump to the professional ranks. We’ve got a long way to go until Midnight Madness. To help pass the time, SI.com is asking and answering three key questions about each of the teams in our Way-Too-Early Top 25. Here’s No. 25, Xavier.
1. Can Xavier capitalize on its Elite Eight NCAA tournament run?
“One and done” doesn’t just refer to elite talent leaving for the pros after a year. We see it every season in March Madness: A team, often a mid-major, makes an awesome, surprising run, only to fall off the map the next season. Xavier should be in good position, though, on the floor and on the recruiting trail, to avoid such a fate.
Edmond Sumner is off to the NBA, despite missing about half the season with a torn ACL. The Musketeers’ success in 2017–18 will hinge partially on who stays, who goes and which freshmen play like veterans (see below). But they’ve got a solid coach in Chris Mack, who will be able to hit the recruiting trail this spring with renewed energy and pitch the possibility of a Final Four run.
We don’t know much of anything about the upcoming schedule, save for a home date with Baylor in non-conference play. But maintaining momentum this season will be so much about how motivated the young returners—such as rising sophomores Quentin Goodin and Tyrique Jones—are to get in the gym and get better this off-season. Often, a taste of success in the tourney is all a team needs to go on a tear the following season.
2. Does Trevon Bluiett come back?
Bluiett, an All-Big East selection two years in a row, has been here before: Last year the 6’6’’ guard flirted with declaring for the NBA draft before deciding to return to school. As a junior this season he averaged 18.5 points and 5.7 rebounds, while shooting 43% from the field. He had a heck of an audition during Xavier’s tourney run, too, scoring 29 and 25 in upsets over Florida State and Arizona, respectively. But Bluiett struggled in the Elite Eight loss to Gonzaga, scoring just 10 points on 3 of 14 shooting. (More recently, he reportedly was hit with a misdemeanor drug charge.)
While Bluiett is easily the Musketeers’ best player, returning would give him a chance to show scouts he can better distribute and take care of the ball (he dished out 75 assists compared to 78 turnovers in 2016–17). Bluiett has announced he’s planning to test the NBA waters but will not hire an agent, which means he could return to school. Xavier won't collapse without him, but with him, the Musketeers would be downright dangerous.
3. How good can Paul Scruggs be as a true freshman?
Xavier signed one of the best 2017 recruiting classes in the country (Scout.com ranked it No. 5), highlighted by Scruggs, a 6’3’’, 190-pound guard from Prolific Prep in Napa, Calif. He is a consensus four-star prospect and, according to Scout.com, the No. 5 point guard in his class.
If Bluiett leaves, Scruggs will likely be thrown into the deep end immediately as a starter. If Bluiett stays, Mack will have the luxury of bringing off the bench a dynamic combo guard who can facilitate offense and get buckets when needed. Mack has called Scruggs “as tough as a competitor as we’ve recruited as Xavier,” a trait that should facilitate a smooth transition to the rugged Big East.
Among other newcomers who could contribute immediately, keep an eye on 6’7’’, 205-pound forward Jared Ridder, considered one of the best shooters in the 2017 class, and 6'6, 205-pound forward Naji Marshall, who can do a little bit of everything.