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Big East Basketball: Preview and keys to Xavier vs. UConn matchup

The Xavier Musketeers look to regaining their footing in the Big East, while UConn looks to continue their pursuit of back-to-back National Championships.

Connecticut v Butler
Connecticut v Butler / Michael Hickey/GettyImages
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Xavier Musketeers 7-7 (1-2)

It was a summer to forget for Sean Miller and his Xavier Musketeers.

Zach Freemantle, the top returning scorer from last year’s squad, underwent surgery to repair his left foot during March of 2023. The recovery has kept the forward sidelined ever since and could potentially cause him to miss the remainder of the season. Last year, Freemantle averaged 15.2 points, shot .585 from the field, and corralled 8.1 rebounds per game.

To make matters worse, fellow senior Jerome Hunter was sidelined indefinitely in early July due to an undisclosed medical issue. Hunter was effective in his role with the Musketeers in 2022-23, contributing 7.8 PPG off the bench. 

Both injuries forced the Musketeers to completely revamp their style of play before the season even began. Focus shifted to the team’s incoming transfers, internal development, and freshmen with something to prove. 

Xavier’s work in the transfer portal was crucial to helping keep this team afloat amidst the string of injuries and departures. The scouts looked long and hard and found a pair of gems in Conference USA that would become the team’s starting backcourt: Quincy Olivari and Dayvion McKnight.

Olivari made the move from the Rice Owls after leading his team in scoring with 18.7 PPG. Now joining the Big East, the 6’3” guard wasted no time in making a name for himself. Throughout 14 games this season, Olivari’s 17.9 PPG is tied for the top rank in the conference, powered by his 2.8 made threes per contest. 

McKnight lines up along Olivari in the Musketeers’ starting lineup after transferring over from Western Kentucky. The former Hilltopper is coming off of back-to-back seasons averaging over 16 PPG, but his scoring has taken a backseat to start the year with Xavier. McKnight’s passing has risen to a new level in his new home, leading the conference in assist to turnover ratio with 3.7 while dishing out 5.2 APG.

Former North Texas forward Abou Ousmane rounds out the new additions, bringing some much needed size to the Musketeers’ roster. On the offensive glass, the 6’10” senior leads the team with 2.9 ORB per game, extending possessions at the sixth-best rate in the Big East.

The early portion of Xavier’s schedule did not do this fresh roster any favours. Tough back-to-back matchups against Purdue and Washington early on ultimately proved too much to handle and pushed the team’s record to 2-2. That “even-steven” approach would continue throughout the season as the Musketeers’ record levelled out at 6-5 heading back home to the Big East.

Much of the same continued and, despite picking up a solid win at home over a surging Seton Hall squad (74-54), a pair of losses on the road to St. John’s (81-66) and Villanova (66-65) put Xavier on the back foot heading into Wednesday’s matchup with UConn.

It’s clear that for Sean Miller and the Musketeers, the issue is far deeper than his team’s performance on the court; Xavier’s roster is flawed. The key departures paired with bad injury luck left this roster undermanned and unprepared ahead of a battle with one of the Big East’s best.