Forward thinking in Cincinnati
The Xavier Musketeers had two sensational runs in the postseason of the 2014-15 campaign. They wound up as the runner ups in the Big East Conference Tournament and then made the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament before falling to the Arizona Wildcats who are, of course, led by former Musketeers head coach Sean Miller.
Despite that, Chris Mack and X are solely thinking about 2015 as the season approaches.
"We can't worry about improving upon a season from a year ago unless we worry about getting better tomorrow in practice," Mack said. "I know that's so cliche, but quite honestly, our team did that a year ago. We were able to get better every single day."
From the outside looking in, it appears that statement is true. From February 7 to March 7, the Musketeers finished the season strongly with a 5-3 record including a win over Cincinnati, and finished the season with a 9-9 record in conference play before, of course, making their run in the Big East Tournament. Internally, Mack echoed the sentiment that the team was improving at this point in the season.
"When we got to February and March, guys were excited to come to practice. I think our team's results were a reflection of that."
And staying consistent is imperative to X's head coach.
"We have to be the same way this year with, in many ways, a more talented group than we had a year ago."
Nonconference Schedule Analysis Top 5 Games for 2015-16 Conference Schedule Analysis
Bluiett's back and ready for big things
Among the many reasons that Xavier was so successful was the arrival and subsequent high-caliber play of freshman Trevon Bluiett. An Indianapolis native, Bluiett was somewhat of an afterthought among the highly touted freshmen in the conference, namely the likes of Isaiah Whitehead, Angel Delgado, L.J. Peak, Isaac Copeland among others. And all Bluiett did was become one of Xavier's most significant contributors on the floor.
And he adjusted well to the college game from the onset, averaging 17.2 points in the first six games of his collegiate career. He may have slipped slightly down the stretch, but coach Mack is expecting big things out of his sophomore guard this year.
"Yeah, I think that like most freshmen turned sophomores, that experience you gain as a freshman ... it's irreplaceable," Mack said. "He's going to be a guy that I think, because he's put himself in great shape, because he's gained all that experience and playing in the NCAA Tournament. He's going to have a terrific sophomore year."
Chris Mack appears to value Trevon highly, especially when it comes to his belief on how he needs to play.
"He needs to. He needs to be a consistent factor for us to be really good."
The Stain Train left the station, so who's next to step up?
The Musketeers will likely feel the absence of revered big man Matt Stainbrook at some point during the season. Stain was a big reason why Xavier has been so successful in their short time in the Big East, helping lead the squad to two consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances.
But Mack believes that a returning big man will be able to fit right in and give X a boost in Stainbrook's absence.
"I think Jalen Reynolds has the opportunity to be one of the best bigs in our league," he said. "The way he played in the final 10-12 games a year ago ... probably cemented himself to be on the preseason first team."
The numbers don't lie. In the final 12 games of the season, Reynolds, a Livonia, Michigan native, amassed averages of 10.8 points and 6.0 rebounds. Efficiency was also a strength for Reynolds as he collected a field goal percentage of 59.1 percent.
"I'm more worried about Jalen being on the postseason first team," Mack added. "If he does that, we'll have a special year."
Stay tuned for more here at Big East Coast Bias as we continue our media day recaps. Quotes from Xavier senior forward James Farr will be posted soon.