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Xavier Looks to Carry Momentum from NCAA Tournament Run

Photo: Icon Sportswire

Although Xavier finished in sixth place in the Big East last season, it ultimately had the last laugh as they were the last conference team standing, as the Musketeers went on an unexpected run to the Sweet 16 before eventually losing to Arizona. With that momentum in their back pocket, head coach Chris Mack is looking to build on that experience this season.

While at Big East media day last week, Mack hinted that his team is ready to take on all comers once again, although noted there are lots of talented teams in the Big East. Mack said he has some goals for the season, but it’s something that he likes to keep internal.

“We keep those (goals) inside the locker room,” said Mack. “The biggest thing for us: did we get better from yesterday? A year ago, the team that we had was able to do that. That’s easy to do in October and November. That’s not very easy to do in February and March. To our team’s credit, we were able to continually improve (last year). That’s the goal every single day, and if we do that good things will happen.”

Mack was hopeful last year’s run to the Sweet 16 will carry over to this season.

“I like to think it (last season’s run) energizes our team and inspired our players to work hard in the offseason,” Mack said. “Again, getting better every single day will lead you to moments like that. It’s not easy to get through that fine keyhole to get to the Sweet 16. There are multiple teams in this league that are capable of runs like that.”

Last year the Musketeers leaned heavily on a pair of seniors in point guard Dee Davis and Matt Stainbrook, but since they have departed the program, others will have to step up. That’s where the development of burgeoning stars like Trevon Bluiett and Jalen Reynolds is vital.

These two players in particular  possess a great deal of skill and upside. The Musketeers should be in good hands with this talented duo.

Mack has the highest trust in Blueitt and Reynolds to carry the torch.

“College basketball is all about transition,” Mack said about losing Stainbrook and Davis. “You’re going to lose players to graduation, through transfers; you’re (also) going to gain players. (Bluiett and Reynolds) I think are going to have a lot bigger years and bigger roles than they did a year ago. Both of them are terrific offensive players. They present really good size at their positions.”

Look for Bluiett to especially come to the forefront. He is just a natural scorer who can beat you in so many ways. The 6’6”, 215-pound bull of a guard is both quick and strong and can beat you in the paint, as well as from the perimeter. He is coming off a fine freshman campaign in which he was named to the all-Big East Rookie Team after averaging 11 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game, while shooting .422 percent from the field.

Reynolds is the one to watch in the post. This 6’10”, 232-pound beast of a man is an absolute menace in the post, as he attacks the glass with a reckless abandon. The junior is primed for a breakout campaign after averaging 9.9 points and 6.1 rebounds on .618 shooting from the field last season.

The Musketeers also return one of the more underrated players in the Big East in junior guard Myles Davis. Davis is as reliable as they come and he is coming off a season in which he averaged 10.6 points per game, while shooting .384 percent from three-point range and .872 percent from the free-throw line. He’ll provide Mack with an experienced guard he can trust in late-game moments.

Where Mack and the Musketeers may run into some problems is at point replacing Dee Davis. Mack has a few options in red-shirt freshman Edmond Sumner and sophomore Larry Austin Jr. Or perhaps Mack will put the ball in the hands of upperclassmen like Myles Davis and Remy Abell.

Either way, Mack expects a process at point guard.

“I don’t think anybody will just jump into Dee’s role,” said Mack. “Dee played 35-36 minutes a game, but we have capable players that are little inexperienced. Both Larry Austin and Edmond Sumner have great size at the position, which I’m excited about. Myles Davis can always slide over to the one. We’re going to let the fall preseason determine who will get the start. But, I wouldn’t cement anybody in that position until they really earned it.”

Again, you can’t dismiss the loss of Stainbrook and Davis as something you can easily brush off. Nonetheless, Xavier has the requisite pieces to make a run at challenging for the Big East crown and another deep run in the tournament.

With toughness, discipline and one of the better coaches in the league, Xavier is putting everyone on notice they are a team you can not take lightly.

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