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Big East 2016-17 Season Preview: Xavier Musketeers

Following a great season with a heartbreaking ending, the Musketeers look to be one of the best teams in the Big East again.

NCAA Basketball: Creighton at Xavier Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

2015-16 was one of the best regular seasons in Xavier Musketeers history. They run the table on the nonconference portion of their schedule, going 13-0. They were ranked in the Top 5 of the AP Poll for the first time in school history. They won 28 games and were a 2-seed in the NCAA Tournament. Xavier fans had to start believing maybe it was finally the year to make it to a FInal Four.

Unfortunately, Wisconsin had other plans. Everyone knows what happened by now. Bronson Koenig in the corner at the buzzer. Season over.

Luckily, this year marks a fresh slate. A fresh slate in which Xavier has two players who are, not only Big East Player of the Year contenders, likely going to be in the NBA soon. Combine that with an exceptional head coach, and the Musketeers should once again be a contender in the conference and country.

Last Season

28-6, 14-4 in Big East play.

Notable Returnees (2015-16 Stats)

Trevon Bluiett - G/F, Junior (15.1 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 2.2 APG, 30.6 MPG)

Edmond Sumner - PG, Sophomore (11.0 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 3.6 APG, 25.9 MPG)

Myles Davis* - G, Senior (10.8 PPG, 3.6 RPG. 4.1 APG, 29.1 MPG)

*As of November 7, Davis remains suspended indefinitely.

JP Macura - G/F, Junior (9.4 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 2.0 APG, 22.7 MPG)

Kaiser Gates - F, Sophomore (3.2 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 0.2 APG, 10.4 MPG)

Sean O’Mara - C, Junior (3.2 PPG, 1.9 RPG, 0.3 APG, 7.0 MPG)

Notable Departures (2015-16 Stats)

James Farr - F, Graduated (10.7 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 0.6 APG, 20.6 MPG)

Jalen Reynolds - F, Declared for NBA Draft (9.6 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 0.7 APG, 19.6 MPG)

Remy Abell - G, Graduated (6.4 PPG, 1.4 RPG, 1.5 APG, 24.4 MPG)

Larry Austin, Jr. - G, Transferred (1.9 PPG, 1.2 RPG, 1.2 APG, 10.1 MPG)

Notable Additions

Quentin Goodin - G

Malcolm Bernard - F

Tyrique Jones - F

RaShid Gaston - C

Projected Starting Lineup

PG - Sumner

SG - Macura

SF - Bluiett

PF - Gates

C - Gaston

Coach

Chris Mack (162-77 in seven seasons at Xavier)

Storylines

Sumner Time

With Kris Dunn having departed for the greener pastures of Minnesota, there’s now no longer a definitive answer to “Who is the best point guard in the Big East?”. Our rankings were a mish-mosh between Edmond Sumner and Creighton’s Maurice Watson for the top spot.

One thing is for sure, Sumner will take a giant leap forward this season. He was already a scoring and defensive threat. With another year under his belt, he’ll be a dark horse Big East Player of the Year candidate.

Bluiett’s Back

After flirting with the NBA Draft process in the offseason, Trevon Bluiett decided to return to Xavier for his junior season. Coming into the season, he’s third amongst leading returning scorers in the Big East, having averaged 15.5 points per game last season. Bluiett’s numbers improved across the board last season compared to his sophomore season. If that trend continues, the Musketeers could be looking at a player who gets them 18 points and seven or so rebounds per night.

Bluiett’s health has also been an asset, as he hasn’t missed a single game in his two seasons at Xavier, and has placed in the top 20 in the conference in usage in both seasons.

Replacing Reynolds and Farr

It was a bit of a surprise to some when Jalen Reynolds declared for, and later stayed in the NBA Draft. Reynolds, who averaged 9.6 points and 6.5 rebounds per game last season had a season of eligibility remaining.

Xavier should be able to make up for Reynolds’ scoring, but making up for his rebounding may prove tough for the Musketeers. Making matters even tougher for Xavier, James Farr graduated. Farr averaged 10.7 points and 7.8 rebounds per game last season. That’s a lot of rebounding to make up for.

Myles Davis

As noted above, Davis is currently suspended indefinitely. He was projected to be an important returning piece for the Musketeers, so an extended absence would certainly not be ideal for Chris Mack’s squad. However, sometimes other things take precedence.

Three Reasons for Optimism

Bluiett and Sumner

Anytime you have two of the best players in the conference on the same team, that team is automatically a threat to compete. Both of these guys should be in the Big East Player of the Year conversation when the season is said and done, and both have what it takes to lead the Musketeers to the promised land.

Chris Mack

Mack is the latest addition to a long list of Xavier coaches who have been incredibly successful. Unlike those coaches, it’s highly unlikely that Mack is using the job as a stepping stone to another school. He’s at Xavier for the long haul, which is beneficial to recruiting. Also, Mack won the USBWA’s Coach of the Year award last season. Not too shabby.

The Loss to Wisconsin

Hear me out. Sometimes, when you lose in gut-wrenching fashion it can be a learning experience. That’s what Xavier has to takeaway from that loss to Wisconsin in the NCAA Tournament. They’ll pretend they’re past it and don’t think about it, but it’ll always be there in the back of their minds. If you ignore history, you’re doomed to repeat it, so maybe by thinking about the Wisconsin game Xavier is doomed not to repeat it.

Three Reasons for Pessimism

Losing Farr and Reynolds

As mentioned above, these two did a ton for the Musketeers last year. Chris Mack and the Musketeers are relying on a lot of inexperience in the frontcourt in Sean O’Mara and RaShid Gaston. Gaston was good at Norfolk State and O’Mara was serviceable last year, but who knows how those two will respond to their new roles.

Macura’s Role Change

JP Macura had a strong season culminating in a Big East Sixth Man of the Year award last year. The guard averaged 9.4 points per game off the bench and appeared in all 34 contests. However, he was a starter in just four of the 34. This year, he’ll likely be in the starting lineup. It’s possible minutes uptick and role change could adversely effect Macura.

History

This one is a bit of a cop-out because I’m very high on this Musketeers team and I can’t think of a proper third reason. Xavier is one of the winningest programs to never make a Final Four, right up there with Mizzou and BYU. Xavier is far better than those two schools from a historical and program tradition standpoint, so perhaps this year the trend finally bucks. Until it does, though, people will have the drought in the back of their minds.

Best Case Scenario

Sumner and Bluiett both make First Team All-Big East en route to another 25+ win season. This time, the Musketeers get a more favorable draw and ride the wave all the way to their first Final Four in school history.

Worst Case Scenario

Myles Davis’ suspension lasts the length of the season, and Xavier has issues with defense and rebounding that they’re able to still work through en route to a fourth-place Big East finish before a disappointing early NCAA Tournament exit.