Based solely off optimistic predictions, one wouldn't expect Xavier to be losing three starters from last year's NCAA tournament team including star guard Semaj Christon, who bolted to the NBA a year early. Small forward Justin Martin also left the team for Southern Methodist after utilizing the graduate transfer rule while power forward Isaiah Philmore graduated. Much like Seton Hall, Xavier will inherit a six-man freshman class and one incoming transfer in an effort to replace their lost talent.
Chris Mack's team finished 21-13 (10-8) last campaign that included a first round loss to North Carolina State in the NCAA tournament after squeaking in as a bubble team. The Muskies' strong non-conference schedule (10-3, wins over Alabama, Cincinnati, and Tennessee) played a large factor on Selection Sunday. Xavier will try to replicate that formula for scheduling success by playing in the Wooden Legacy Classic this winter while taking on tough opposition in Murray State, Alabama, Missouri (road), and Auburn (road).
Roster subtractions: Semaj Christon (17 ppg, 4.2 apg, 1.3 spg), Justin Martin (11.7 ppg, 5.2 rpg -- graduate transfer to SMU), Isaiah Philmore (9.3 ppg, 5 rpg), Kamall Richards (3.3 mpg -- transfer to JuCo)
Returnees to watch: Matt Stainbrook (10.6 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 2.2 apg), Dee Davis (7.7 ppg, 4.7 apg), Myles Davis (5.3 ppg), James Farr (4.6 ppg, 3.9 rpg)
Key additions: Remy Abell (Indiana transfer, 4 ppg in 2012-13), Trevon Bluiett (top-50 small forward), Makinde London (top-100 forward)
Projected starting lineup: PG - Dee Davis; SG - Remy Abell/Myles Davis; SF - Trevon Bluiett; PF - Jalen Reynolds, C - Matt Stainbrook
Chris Mack returns two crucial bookends at the one, Dee Davis, and at the five, 6-foot-10 Matt Stainbrook, that he will reconstruct his lineup around. Stainbrook is an anchor in the paint and will threaten to tally double-doubles on most nights; the Preseason First Team All-Big East center recorded the 49th-best defensive rebounding percentage in the country last season. As for Dee Davis, the senior pass-first point guard may be looked upon for scoring a bit more with Semaj Christon gone. Davis attempted more threes (39-105, 37%) than two-pointers last season, while making the exact same amount. Freshman point guard Larry Austin Jr. and sophomore Brandon Randolph will provide cover for Davis off the bench.
Shifting down to shooting guard, Indiana transfer Remy Abell and returning sophomore Myles Davis will fill in for the departed Semaj Christon, who did most of his work within the arc. This Davis was mostly called upon for long-range shooting last season, attempting the second most three-balls (41-124, 33%) on the team in the process. After averaging 4 ppg for Indiana two seasons ago, Remy Abell is projected to score somewhere around 9 ppg for Xavier while bringing defensive prowess to the table. Freshman guard J.P. Macura will slot in behind Davis and Abell at shooting guard.
At small forward, top-50 recruit Trevon Bluiett will replace the departed Justin Martin. The stud of Chris Mack's freshman class, Bluiett is expected to make an immediate impact, especially with little competition to battle on Xavier's wing. Bluiett is unanimously the Xavier newcomer to watch along with Remy Abell.
Shifting down to power forward, one of the Muskies' projected difference makers compared to last season is power forward Jalen Reynolds. After an up and down freshman campaign that saw him suspended mid-season for games against Seton Hall and Villanova, Reynolds responded well over his final 12 games by averaging 13 mpg, 5.4 ppg and 5.4 rpg including career highs of 17 and 12 against St. John's. Reynolds split reserve duties at power forward with junior James Farr, who fell out of favor down the stretch as Reynolds saw more time.
If 6-foot-10 top-100 forward Makinde London doesn't redshirt this season, he will likely back up Reynolds and Farr at the two. London was a 6-foot-1 guard entering high school before a 9-inch growth spurt reclassified him as a versatile forward that can step out and hit perimeter shots. Another freshman forward, Sean O'Mara, will back up Matt Stainbrook at center. A bruising back-to-the-basket center in the mold of Stainbrook, O'Mara had Seton Hall on his final list of six schools last fall before choosing Xavier. He reportedly did quite well rebounding the ball during Xavier's preseason trip to Brazil.
As a unit, Xavier didn't rely on the three-ball much last season after coming in 303rd in the country in percentage of points from beyond the arc. Unless guys like Abell and the two Davis' take on Justin Martin's team-high 50-134 (37%) showing from deep, this probably won't change much. Naturally, the Muskies excelled within the arc last season, primarily due to Semaj Christon, but also as a result of the 58th-best assist to field goals made ratio in the country -- the boys from Cincinnati like to pass the rock. With a seasoned senior point guard in Dee Davis leading the pack, this statistic should remain constant for Chris Mack's team.
Projection wise, I'm hesitant to definitively call Xavier a repeat NCAA tournament team that finishes in the top-four of the Big East. But when comparing X to teams just below them like Providence and Seton Hall, I can't see the Musketeers behind leapfrogged unless Chris Mack's team sags under the pressure of replacing three starters. With that said, it appears that Xavier will perform at right around the same clip they did last season and find themselves on the bubble, perhaps in, or maybe out, again come March.
For a look back at the rest of our Big East Preview Series, check below:
- St. John's has an NCAA-caliber backcourt, will Chris Obekpa lead an inexperienced batch of forwards?
- 2014-15 looks to be a rebuilding year for Marquette after an exodus of talent and head coach Buzz Williams
- Will the Big East's best recruiting class and the return of Joshua Smith help Georgetown?
- Butler has a solid backcourt but questions at forward as they look to start season without Brandon Miller
- Losing Cleveland Melvin and Brandon Young will have to be addition by subtraction for DePaul