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Big East Season Preview: Xavier Musketeers

Next up in the Big East Season Preview Series -- the Xavier Musketeers. Can Semaj Christon get the help he needs for the Musketeers to make a run this year in the Big East? It's possible.

Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

2012-13 Record: 17-14 (9-7), 6th in the A-10.

Head Coach: Chris Mack: Entering 5th season at Xavier. Career Overall Record: 90-44, 2 Conference Championships, 3 NCAA Tournament appearances.

Key Returnees: Semaj Christon, Dee Davis, Justin Martin, Isaiah Philmore

Departures: Travis Taylor, Brad Redford, Jeff Robinson

Additions: Matt Stainbrook, Jalen Reynolds, Kamall Richards, Myles Davis, Brandon Randolph

Projected Starting Lineup: Semaj Christon- G, Dee Davis- G, Justin Martin- F, Isaih Philmore- F, Matt Stainbrook- C

Mark Your Calendars: November 12 vs. Tennessee, Battle 4 Atlantis November 28-30, December 14 vs. Cincinnati, December 21 vs. Alabama.

What Went Wrong Last Season:

The Musketeers are coming off their worst season (17-14) since the '95-'96 season, which just so happened to be their first year in the Atlantic 10 Conference. It was an incredibly frustrating season for Mack's group, and with how well Mack faired in his first three seasons as head coach it was a very surprising result.

Xavier struggled in two key areas -- rebounding and scoring -- which led to the first average season for the Musketeers since Se7en was in theaters. Just how bad were the Musketeers on the glass? The Musketeers were 203rd in the country in trb. The lack of size and strength inside severely inhibited Xavier from ever getting on track in the post last season.

Xavier also couldn't score, which may seem surprising considering how good Christon was for the Musketeers as a freshman last season. Xavier totaled 348 assists last season, good for 290th in the nation. Yikes. The Musketeers, outside of Christon, could not get consistent offensive production from anyone on the team. To put how severe the offensive limitations were to Xavier's inconsistencies last season into perspective one can simply look at Xavier's 65.2 ppg (229th) versus their opponents 62.5 ppg (66th). What that tells us is defense was not a problem for the Musketeers last season, and had the offense been just middle of the road the Musketeers would have been a much better team overall.

Christon and Company:

Christon, the former 4 star recruit, led the Musketeers in scoring last season averaging 15.2 ppg. A lot was asked of the freshman and he delivered as much as you could expect him too. Christon was the x-factor (cringe all you want, I'm using it) for the Musketeers and what kind of debut they have in the Big East this year will largely depend on his development in year two.

Christon was primarily a score-first threat for the Musketeers last season, but as the point guard of this team he's going to have to improve his court vision and become a better distributor. We saw what happened last season when the offense was so heavily predicated on Christon's ability to explode and attack, but if Xavier is going to make a jump forward this season that has to change. Christon excelled at getting to the free throw line, but struggled mightily making the best of those trips shooting a mere 67 percent at the line. For a player who gets as frequently to the line as Christon, 6.2 fta, that percentage has to trend upward this season.

Taylor led the Musketeers in rebounding a season ago, 9.0 rpg, along with being the Musketeers most reliable big offensively averaging 11.9 ppg. Stainbrook is more than capable of replicating Taylor's production as he's already shown he can at Western Michigan where he averaged 11.4 ppg along with 6.6 rpg. Stainbrook, 6'10" 263 pounds, gives the Musketeers the front court big they sorely need. Stainbrook's size should also be utilized in the pick-and-roll. Mack's offense is heavily predicated around speedy pick-and-roll's and with a big like Stainbrook who can score you should expect to see a lot of Christon-Stainbrook pick-and-roll sets this season to split opposing defenses.

Freshmen Kamall Richards (3 star), Myles Davis (4 star), Brandon Randolph (3 star), and Jalen Reynolds(4 star), are the future of the Xavier program. Davis is probably the most highly regarded player of the bunch, but it's his interviewing skills that have me sold on the guy.  Davis, Randolph, Reynolds and Richards may not be in the starting lineup on opening night, but with how much the offense struggled to score last season there is going to be a lot of pressure on Dee, Martin and Philmore to produce early and consistently with these three studs waiting in the background. The added pressure of having three talented freshman playing behind Dee, Martin and Philmore could propel them to take their game to the next level this season. Christon needs help, but help is on the way with Davis, Randolph and Richards entering the frame this season.

Davis taking Dee's starting job at some in the season is probably the most plausible for a multitude of reasons. Dee played significant minutes (28.6 mpg) next to Christon last season, and the experiment of two undersized guards did not equate to an efficient offense. Dee posted a eFG% of 49 percent last season, which was actually up from 42 percent a season ago. Dee does a lot a things on the basketball court that Mack likes, but what he does best is splitting the defense by attacking the basket. On the flip side, Davis is much a smoother scorer that prefers to hang around the perimeter. That's okay when you have NBA three-point range like Davis possesses. With Christon being the type of explosive player he is, Davis may be the better option next to him because of the style of play Davis has compared to Dee. That's not to say Dee doesn't have a place in Mack's rotations, but the Musketeers need to make their mark in the Big East this season with Christon likely entering the NBA draft after this season concludes.

Martin and Philmore both averaged more than 25 mpg last season, but with Reynolds and Richards entering the mix that number figures to go down. Neither Martin or Philmore were all that effective on the offensive end a year ago, but their length, (6'6", 6'8") respectively, make a significant difference altering shots on the defensive end of the floor. Reynolds and Richards are still very raw, but talented, forwards who will be eased into the rotation but probably will not take a significant amount of Martin or Philmore's minutes this season.

If Mack doesn't feel comfortable with either Dee or Davis playing next to Christon this season another option he has at his disposal is playing a two point guard lineup with Christon and Randolph. Randolph's celing isn't quite as high as Christon's, but his handles and explosiveness on offense combined with Christon's could lead to some very efficient and exciting basketball that will drive opponents crazy. More and more NBA teams are opting to play two point guard sets to help floor spacing and better shot selection. Playing Christon and Randolph together could lead to a lot more steals, but also easier penetration for opposing offenses when they gamble and miss.

2013-14 Expectations:

The Musketeers are very young and inexperienced, which isn't something you necessarily want when moving into a major conference like the Big East. However, the Musketeers are a lot deeper than they were a season ago. The Musketeers should pick right up where they left off defensively and the offense should be a lot more fluid with Davis, Randolph, Reynolds, and Richards entering the fold. Finishing in the top half of the Big East this season would be huge for Mack's squad, but the Musketeers falling somewhere in the 6-9 range seems more likely. Regardless, the Musketeers recruiting success is moving them in the right direction even if it isn't immediately apparent on the court this season.