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Xavier Musketeers Have Final Four Potential

Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire

There are not many hotter teams in the country than the Xavier Musketeers. Yeah, that was your Captain Obvious speaking.

However, when you consider Xavier (7-0) was not ranked to open the season and were picked to finish fourth in the Big East, its start to the 2015-16 season is something to definitely take note of. The Musketeers are raising a few eyebrows and questions along the way.

Just how good are these Musketeers and can they sustain their current streak?

Well, early indications suggest Chris Mack does indeed have a team that gets it done on both sides of the floor. Xavier, who is now ranked No. 12 in the latest Associated Press poll, has five players averaging in double-figures in points, while two others average between 7.6 points and 9.4 points per game.

That is balance to a T.

Leading the way is 6-foot-6 sophomore guard Trevon Bluiett. Bluiett is tops on the team in scoring with 14.3 points per game, while shooting a scorching .436 percent from three-point range. He also chips in 7.4 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game. Bluiett is hard as nails and imposes his will on the competition. With a year under his belt, he is grasping the finer nuances of the game and becoming one of the more well-rounded guards in the country.

Down low, 6-foot-10 forward Jalen Reynolds has been as good as advertised, as his physical brand of basketball is something you can’t teach. He is just a ferocious force under the basket. Reynolds is averaging 10.1 points and 7.6 rebounds per game and providing Mack with an ideal enforcer in the post.

Prior to the season, Mack noted that Bluiett and Reynolds needed to step up.

“College basketball is all about transition,” Mack said about losing Matt Stainbrook and Dee Davis at Big East media day. “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.”

Red-shirt freshman Edmond Sumner has also been a revelation at point guard. After Dee Davis departed the program, Mack was left with a void at point guard, but Sumner has gone above and beyond the call of duty while giving Mack a dimension he has not had in prior years.

The 6-foot-5 lanky Sumner is a smooth operator with the ball in his hands, as he can attack the basket as well as stroke it from deep (.438 percent from three-point range). Through seven games, Sumner is averaging 11.4 points per game (second on the squad) and a team-high 2.9 assists per game.

Underrated guard Myles Davis is quietly doing his thing once again, averaging 10.1 points, 3.9 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game while shooting a blistering .905 percent from the free-throw line. While not the flashiest of players, Davis is as dependable as they come.

While the starters have been doing a bang up of job of making Xavier a national force, the play of the bench has been a tremendous boost for Mack and company, too. In particular, sophomore guard J.P. Macura and James Farr have really flourished off the bench.

Macura is third on the team in scoring with 10.6 points and 2.4 rebounds per game. While he is struggling from beyond the arc (shooting .320 percent from three-point range), Macura is a gifted athlete who can hot at a moment’s notice.

Perhaps most surprising is the play of James Farr in the post. In just 19.7 minutes per game, Farr is still nearly averaging a double-double with 9.4 points and team-high 9.0 rebounds per game, while shooting .519 percent from the field. That is some major productivity and efficiency. Yes, it’s early but when you have a guy averaging nearly a double-double off the bench, clearly you are doing something right.

What is unique about this Xavier team is that Mack starts four guards with Reynolds. While Reynolds controls the lane, the guards are allowed the freedom to work inside and out.

Bluiett and Sumner are play-making guards who can help facilitate things while scoring for themselves or setting up their teammates. Meanwhile Davis, Macura and Remy Abell (7.6 points per game) roam the perimeter. The setup has been dynamic.

So getting back to the original question, how good can the Musketeers be?

Well, early on they are passing all key tests.

With wins at Michigan and then beating Missouri, Alabama, USC and Dayton by an average margin of 17.5 points, Xavier has not been at all challenged against some quality teams. That top-15 ranking does indeed seem legitimate.

The Musketeers may possibly go undefeated in non-conference play, as they are home for four straight games (Western Kentucky, Wright State, Cincinnati and Auburn) and then play at Wake Forest in the non-conference finale. Cincinnati should be a good litmus test, as fellow Big East school Butler just pulled out a great win against the Bearcats on Wednesday. Auburn and Wake Forest will be no pushovers either, especially Wake Forest. With the Wake game on the road, and the Demons Deacons already having wins over Indiana and UCLA, they will no doubt be intimidated by Xavier.

In any event, all roads lead to a showdown in the conference opener when Xavier heads to Villanova on New Year’s Eve. That should be one heck of a duel and well worth the price of admission.

Mack has the right mix of players, chemistry, experience from last season’s NCAA Sweet-16 run and a toughness all their own to make it even further this season. So, yes, don’t be surprised if the Musketeers are playing in Houston in April.

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