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Big East Season Preview: Xavier Musketeers

What should we expect from Xavier in 2014? Josh Bozzick has the answers.

Will Jalen Reynolds be Xavier's break-out player this season? I hope so.
Will Jalen Reynolds be Xavier's break-out player this season? I hope so.
Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

2013-14 Record: 21-13 (10-8), 4th in Big East; Lost in First Four of the NCAA Tournament to North Carolina State

Head Coach: Chris Mack, entering his 6th season as Xavier's head coach. Overall record: 111-57 (.661). A-10 Regular Season Champs (2010, 2011). A-10 Coach of the Year (2011). 4 NCAA Tournament Appearances and 2 Sweet 16s.

Departures: Semaj Christon (Declared for NBA Draft; 17.0 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 4.2 APG, .479 FG%), Justin Martin (Graduate Transfer to SMU; 11.7 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 1.0 APG, .452 FG%), Isiah Philmore (Graduated; 9.3 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 0.5 APG, .541 FG%), Erik Stenger (Graduated; 1.2 PPG, 1.3 RPG, 0.1 APG, .579 FG%), Kamall Richards (Transferred to JUCO; 0.7 PPG, 0.6 RPG, 0.3 APG, .286 FG%)

Arrivals: Trevon Bluiett (4-star recruit, Indianapolis, IN), Edmond Sumner (4-star recruit, Detroit, MI), Makinde London (4-star recruit, Nashville, TN (Montverde, FL - Montverde Academy), JP Macura (4-star recruit, Lakeville, MN), Sean O'Mara (3-star recruit, Lisle, IL), Larry Austin Jr. (3-star recruit, Springfield, IL)

Returnees: Matt Stainbrook (10.6 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 2.2 APG, .556 FG%), Dee Davis (7.7 PPG, 1.8 RPG, 4.7 APG, .398 FG%), James Farr (4.6 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 0.2 APG, .516 FG%), Remy Abell (Transfer from Indiana; 2012-13 Stats: 4.0 PPG, 1.5 RPG, 0.9 APG, .469 FG%), Jalen Reynolds (3.8 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 0.1 APG, .533 FG%), Myles Davis (5.3 PPG, 1.5 RPG, 0.8 APG, .335 FG%), Brandon Randolph (2.6 PPG, 1.3 RPG, 1.3 APG, .354 FG%)

Projected 2014-15 Starting Lineup: Dee Davis, Remy Abell, Trevon Bluiett, Jalen Reynolds, Matt Stainbrook

Depth

Xavier fans felt depth was a strength of last year's team, at least before the season began. As the year went on, the Musketeers' bench grew very thin. A ten-man rotation soon became a seven/eight-man rotation by the end of the year. Don't expect this year's team to go through the same thing. If you look at both rosters from top to bottom, this year's roster has much more depth. The returning players are another year older, and the freshmen class has players at every position.

Depth at the guard positions will be stronger than last season, with four returning guards and three incoming freshmen. Returnees Brandon Randolph and Myles Davis will both be more confident and improved in their second seasons. Senior Dee Davis has a good grip on the offense and is a tough defender. Remy Abell is finally (abell) to play after sitting out last season. Semaj Christon was the only guard who left, so the guard position is more than healthy.

Two bigs have departed: Isiah Philmore and Erik Stenger. Philmore had a very productive senior year and will be tougher to replace then Stenger, whose stat line will be easy to fill. Philmore's production is expected to fall on Jalen Reynolds and James Farr this season, while Sean O'Mara and Makinde London will take over Stenger's load. O'Mara should get more playing time than London, who may redshirt. O'Mara will improve upon Stenger's stats, possibly even doubling them in his freshmen campaign.

Xavier has much more guard depth and brings back a more experienced group of big men this season. Their one concern is depth at the SF position. Trevon Bluiett will be Justin Martin's replacement at the 3, but there's not much behind him. Only three other players on the roster play Small Forward: Abell, JP Macura and Edmond Sumner. Abell should see the most looks at SF and should be serviceable in that spot when Bluiett needs a breather. Macura lacks the quickness and strength to play the 3, and Sumner has the quickness, but lacks the strength. Even last year's team had a similar problem with regards to Martin. I wouldn't expect this to be a big problem, because I think Abell could be a good fit in the small forward position when needed.

Non-Conference Slate

Last year's non-conference schedule for the Musketeers was a weak one. They only played one game on the road (at Alabama), and were swept in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in November. Their annual game against Cincinnati, a win for the Muskies, was at a neutral site (US Bank Arena in Downtown Cincinnati).

This year's non-conference schedule has very few cupcakes. Besides home contests against Northern Arizona and IUPUI, every opponent is respectable.

They host against Long Beach State (Picked to finish 3rd in the Big West Conference), Stephen F. Austin (Picked to finish 1st in the Southland Conference), Murray State (Picked to finish 1st in the Ohio Valley Conference), Alabama, and Florida Gulf Coast (Predicted to win the Atlantic Sun). Alabama is the lone BCS team from that bunch, but they should be the least of Xavier's worries. The rest of these schools are all supposed to do very well this year. There has even been talk of Stephen F. Austin and Murray State possibly winning 30 games each. All four of these schools (Long Beach State, Murray State, Stephen F. Austin, and Florida Gulf Coast) would love to grab a marquee win. When they play against Xavier, X is going to have a big "X" on their back. Xavier needs to realize this, and take care of business.

Xavier's thanksgiving tournament is a weak field, and they need to take advantage. They should beat San Diego in their first game in the Wooden Legacy, and their second game against either Princeton/UTEP should be a good one. X needs to grab at least two wins in the three games they will play in the Wooden Legacy. The field of teams is very weak, and it serves as a good opportunity for Xavier to build momentum entering December.

The Musketeers three non-conference road tests are Missouri, Auburn, and Cincinnati. Missouri and Auburn are not supposed to be in the top crop of the SEC, and are both supposed to finish in the middle of the 14-team conference. The annual Crosstown Shootout has now returned to the campuses of both schools, and will be at Cincinnati's Fifth Third Arena in February. Cincinnati won't be as good as last year and should finish somewhere in the AAC behind UConn, SMU, and Memphis. All three of these road non-conference games should be wins for the Musketeers. The Musketeers need to show the selection committee they can win on the road, and these three non-conference games provide Xavier that opportunity.

There you have it, an average non-conference schedule that offers few challenges and few cupcakes. Xavier should be the favorite to win most of their non-conference games. If they fail to win most of the games on their non-conference slate, X may be on the outside looking in come selection Sunday.

Freshmen

When you bring in a top-20 recruiting class, there will be expectations. People expect this group of six freshmen to make an impact right away. Not next year, not two years from now, but right now. If they fail to do so, Xavier will fail to live up to expectations. Out of the 6 youngsters, three of them will be playing immediately. Trevon Bluiett is expected to start and Sean O'Mara will be the second big off the bench. Who plays out of the rest of the freshmen is anyone's guess. Larry Austin Jr. could get minutes as the backup point guard and JP Macura could get minutes as the backup shooting guard.

Makinde London and Edmond Sumner are coming into the year with uncertainty. There have been rumors Makinde London will redshirt this season, but that's not official. Edmond Sumner was supposed to be the backup shooting guard, but has been limited in practice and didn't actually start practicing with the team until last week. He has chronic tendonitis in his knees, which is a concern. The coaching staff will need to decide in the next 10 days who will be the redshirt, if they decide to redshirt either London or Sumner. Both players could use a redshirt year as they could use a year to focus on gaining weight and getting stronger. With the plethora of guards on the roster and the lack of bigs, I think Sumner should be redshirted. It would be better off to have a player who has not practiced much because of injury redshirting, then a player like London who is healthy and full of potential. London can prove valuable this year with his ability to create mismatches with his guard and shooting skills in a 6-foot-10 frame. It will be a tough call for the coaching staff, but at the moment, I think Sumner is the best candidate for the redshirt year out of the two.

Xavier has a great freshmen class. Two of the freshmen should grab consistent minutes every game. Trevon Bluiett will be one of those freshmen, but the other one could differ from game to game. Depending on the matchups and the opponent, that second freshmen could be anyone. Anyone besides London if he redshirts, and Sumner if he redshirts or continues to have knee problems during the season. It should be fun to watch these freshmen grow and develop as players in their first seasons.

Growth

For Xavier to have another successful season, the returning players need to show growth. Growth is to be expected from one season to the next, but when you lose your top three leading scorers, it needs to happen. Besides Matt Stainbrook and Dee Davis, the other five returning players need to show improvement. None more important than Jalen Reynolds. Reynolds will be expected to make a big jump from last season. He needs to fill the void left from Isiah Philmore's departure. Myles Davis needs to show a consistent three-point shot and the ability to defend. Brandon Randolph must show more offensive aggressiveness and a confident jump shot. James Farr has to continue to dominate the boards, and play more consistent from game-to-game. Remy Abell has to show why he was the 8th man on an Indiana Sweet 16 team two years ago, and be willing to be an offensive threat every possession in addition to his stifling defense.

Season Prediction

21-10 (11-7), 3rd in Big East

It will be an up and down season for a young Musketeers team. As the year progresses, the team will improve. The freshmen will learn the ropes and the older players will continue to show growth. With a 3rd place finish in the Big East, Xavier will make the tournament for the second year in a row. Unlike last year, they will avoid the play-in round. Chris Mack and his team will not be satisfied by just being there this time around. They will win in the Round of 64, and take a hard fought exit in the Round of 32. It will once again be another good season for the Xavier Musketeers.