The Musketeers return plenty of perimeter talent, but must sort out frontcourt concerns.
All Xavier did last season was defy expectations.
The Musketeers weren’t supposed to win 28 games. They weren’t supposed to be ranked in the Top 10. The weren’t supposed to challenge eventual national champion Villanova in the Big East.
But they did.
This season, they have bigger aspirations, but the Musketeers won’t sneak up on anyone. The team returns its main core of players from last season’s roster, including preseason All-Big East players Trevon Bluiett and Edmond Sumner.
All signs point to the Musketeers being even better. They should contend for a Big East title and be a player at the national level. However, that doesn’t mean they don’t have their own problems to sort out. Whether or not they can address those issues will determine how successful the Musketeers will be.
The main question Xavier faces this season: Who will replace the production of James Farr and Jalen Reynolds in the frontcourt? Farr and Reynolds were the team’s two best interior players a season ago, and both are now gone–Farr graduated, and Reynolds opted to turn pro after his junior year. Together, the duo combined to average more than 20 points and 14 rebounds per game.
The Musketeers expect big things from RaShid Gaston, who sat out last season after transferring from Norfolk State, where he averaged 15.5 points per game and 9.6 rebounds per game as a junior. Because of his size and experience, Gaston will likely compete for a starting role right away.
Other players who are in prime positions for larger roles this season include sophomore Kaiser Gates and junior Sean O’Mara. Gates is a stretch-4, while O’Mara is more of a traditional big man. Both played fewer than 11 minutes per game last season, but should play more this season out of necessity.
The x-factor is freshman Tyrique Jones. FanRag Sports lead college basketball columnist Jon Rothstein recently named Jones one of 20 under-the-radar freshmen for the 2016-’17 season, saying, “If you’re a fan of elite rebounders, you’ll love Jones. The bouncy power forward has one constant in his diet: he eats glass with every meal.” The Musketeers are looking for rebounders, so expect Jones to play a role as a freshman.
Xavier’s frontcourt may have questions, but the talent in the backcourt more than makes up for any concerns.
It all starts with Bluiett. At 6-6 and 208 pounds, Bluiett has the size and versatility to play either on the wing or as a stretch-4, where he creates matchup problems by making almost 40 percent of his three-point attempts. Xavier’s Mr. Do-It-All averaged 15.1 ppg and 6.1 rpg last season while splitting time on the perimeter and post. Expect more of the same this season, especially with the team’s inexperience in the frontcourt.
Sumner, Xavier’s other star guard, burst onto the scene as a freshman by averaging 11 ppg and 3.6 assists per game. He must improve on his 39.7-percent shooting clip from the field, but he is primed for a breakout season as a sophomore. He has the size and athleticism to excel in the NBA.
Other guards likely to play key roles are J.P. Macura, who averaged 9.4 ppg last season, and freshman Quentin Goodin. Graduate transfer Malcolm Bernard averaged 14.4 ppg and 7.1 rpg last season at Florida A&M.
The Musketeers’ depth took a hit this offseason when senior guard Myles Davis was suspended indefinitely from the team. Davis, who was one of the team’s three top returning scorers, averaged 10.8 ppg last season. At this point, it’s unclear whether or not he will return to the team.
Xavier must address the loss of Farr and Reynolds and the suspension of Davis. Losing the trio hurts, but the cupboard isn’t bare. Bluiett and Sumner are all-conference talents surrounded by capable role players. If multiple frontcourt players embrace larger roles and the team can find some depth in the backcourt, Xavier will meet its higher expectations this season.
Does that mean the Musketeers will dethrone Villanova as Big East champions? Maybe not, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible, either. If anyone can do it, the Musketeers can. After last season, one thing is clear: expect the unexpected.