Big East Preseason Previews and Predictions: #7 Xavier

Jamie Sabau

Coming off of its first down year in quite awhile, can the Musketeers bounce back despite an increase in competition?

The Musketeers have been the picture of success over the years being one of the premier "mid majors" in the country and having made the Tournament every year since 2004 before last season.  But now, thrust into the Big East, there's nothing "mid major" about Xavier anymore and coming off its worst season in years the Muskies are going to have to grow up fast to compete for a League title.

Last year: 17-14 No postseason

Kenpom: 79th Offense: 108th Defense: 76th Tempo: 281st

Key Losses: Travis Taylor, Jeff Robinson, Brad Redford

Key Additions: Matt Stainbrook 6'9 C (R-Jr Transfer), Myles Davis 6'2 SG (R-So), Brandon Randolph 6'1 PG, Jalen Reynolds 6'9 PF ( R-Fr), Kamall Richards 6'6 SF

Key Returnees: Semaj Christon 6'3 So PG, James Farr 6'9 So PF, Dee Davis 6'0 Jr PG/SG, Justin Martin 6'6 Sr SF, Isaiah Philmore 6'8" Sr PF, Erik Stenger 6'8" Sr PF

Projected Starting Lineup:

PG: Semaj Christon, SG:Dee Davis , SF:Justin Martin , PF:Isiah Philmore , C: Matt Stainbrook

Semaj Christon is the unquestioned leader of the team.  In his upcoming sophomore campaign he will need to improve his game in order to take Xavier to the next level. Semaj is a phenomenal athlete, a good distributor, and good at getting to the line. Unfortunately, he can't shoot, so those trips to the line don't earn as many points as they should and he is not a very efficient scorer with an offensive rating of only 95.9. His efficiency was also hurt by his 22.2% turnover rate. He is a great prospect for the NBA and if he is able to develop a jumpshot he will be a dominant player, but for now he's a poor man's Rajon Rondo.

Xavier is pinning a lot of its hope for improvement on on a trio of relative newcomers. I say relative because all three of these players practiced with the Musketeers last season and are only now eligible. Matt Stainbrook transferred in from Western Michigan where he led the Mustangs in rebounds and was second in points. Stainbrook is a very good player, posting impressive Ortg, eFG%, TS%, offensive and defensive rebounding % and block %. He will definitely contribute immediately.

Xavier is also looking for major contributions from two players who should have been freshmen last year but were academically ineligible in Myles Davis and Jalen Reynolds.  Davis has the reputation of a knock-down shooter and he will need to be for Xavier because the Musketeers graduated their best 3pt shooter in Brad Redford. Redford shot 45% from 3 and was the only Musketeer to shoot over 100 three pointers. Xavier does not rely on the three-point shot, ranking near the bottom of Division 1 in terms of attempts and % of points from three-pointers. There's a bit of a chicken or the egg conundrum there as to whether they do not shoot a lot of threes because they don't have a lot of players who can shoot the three or if they do not recruit a lot of shooters because it's not a part of their offense. Either way, Davis will be required to come in and help space the offense with his shot. The concern about him is his defense as he had a reputation as a poor defender in high school and is coming off of a knee injury over the summer.

Reynolds is a big man with  athleticism and length and the ability to step out and hit a mid-range jumper. He will provide depth in the frontcourt behind Philmore, Stainbrook and alongside, Stenger and Farr. The last two newcomer Kamall Richards will  provide some depth behind Justin Martin at SF.  Aleksandar Vezenkov was supposed to join the team as a freshman but chose to sign a contract overseas instead. Dee Davis will get the nod at SG and has the ability to slide over and back up Semaj at PG.

One of Xavier's main weaknesses last year was turnovers. They were 200th in the nation turning the ball over at a rate of 20.4%. The other main weakness was its inability to hit free throws despite it being a major part of their offense to get to the line. The two main culprits were Semaj and Travis Taylor. They both shot more than twice the number of free throws compared to the next highest attempter but they shot 67% and 59% respectively from the line. This looks like it will likely still be a problem as Stainbrook who comes in to replace Taylor only shot 61.6% from the line at Western Michigan.

Xavier is a typical Big East team in that it is physical, scrappy on defense and will rebound the ball. The Muskies play positional defense and do not go for the steal all that often.  Although Xavier loses its two best rebounders in Taylor and Robinson, Stainbrook and the rest of the posts should be able to make up for their departure. Xavier will not be intimidated by the Big East competition and undoubtedly head coach Chris Mack will use articles like this which pick them to miss the NCAA tournament for a second straight year as motivation to play with a chip on its shoulder. Xavier will likely be a bubble team and compete for an NCAA bid, but I think the depth of the league leaves them a few wins shy of the big dance and they'll have to settle for a NIT bid. If Xavier were still in the A-10 it would be a tournament team, but the increase in competition and unfamiliar foes will keep the Musketeers from returning to the Dance for at least one more year.

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