Editor, Dave Klinger (Photo: Marquette Athletics)
College basketball season is quickly approaching. In an effort to preview it, we spoke with ten bloggers or writers, each covering a different Big East men’s basketball team. Today, we have a conversation with Banners On The Parkway, a blog from SB Nation covering Xavier hoops. Get yourself familiar with one of Marquette’s conference opponents by reading their answers below. Lastly, we asked them to rank the Big East.
2015-16 Record: 28-6 overall, 14-4 conference
Postseason: NCAA Tournament 2-seed, losing in Round of 32 to Wisconsin
Why will Xavier win?
BOTP: The back court. The perimeter as a whole, really. Working down in terms of seniority, senior guard Myles Davis is a pure shooter whose game branched out into distribution and leadership last year, culminating in the triple-double he dropped all over Kris Dunn in February. Myles Fox “JP” Morrisey-Macura is a whirlwind of activity on both ends; things–good and bad–just happen when he’s out there. He poaches passing lanes, scores and distributes with absurd creativity, loves the big moment, and occasionally throws down a complete middle finger of a dunk to end a game in a barn. We’d hate him if he weren’t on our team, but thankfully we don’t have to worry about that.
Trevon Bluiett is a jump shooter who is really good at getting space for his jumper. He’s not a blur or an above the rim player, but he’s got savvy, great footwork, and a pretty stroke. He’s a wing who will play a lot of four when Coach Mack goes small. Ed Sumner is another guy you might have heard of. His potential is off the charts. He’s so fast and so athletic that it’s almost not fair. Find a Vine of his funeral service for Octavius Ellis during last year’s Crosstown Shootout and watch it loop for the next ten minutes.
That’s not even touching the new guys, incoming freshman Quentin Goodin (a stud in his own right) and fifth-year transfer Malcolm Bernard (a defensive menace coming in to shore up the perimeter’s lone weakness). And then there’s Coach Mack, who has grown from man-to-man on one end, pick-and-roll on the other end system guy to outside the box coaching savant in his time at Xavier. We’ve got a lot of faith in what he’s doing with this team right now.
Why will Xavier lose?
BOTP: We won’t!
We will. When we do, it will be likely due to one of two reasons. The first one is defensive breakdowns. A lot of our best offensive players (Myles, Tre, JP, Sean O’Mara) are fairly limited defensively. If Xavier has to play a team that is going to get and stay hot from deep, it will call for more man defense, which is not a strong suit for Xavier in the Mack era. X likes to pack the defense and kill possessions with rebounding; teams that can have success with long jumpers will cause problems.
The other weakness is on the front-court. It’s not so much a known weakness as an unknown; Xavier’s two true posts (discounting for a moment the potential of incoming freshman Tyrique Jones) are Norfolk State transfer RaShid Gaston and junior Sean O’Mara. O’Mara has shown flashes of top notch ability, particularly on offense, but foul trouble and more senior players have kept him from getting consistent minutes. Gaston did very well at Norfolk, but that’s not the same as doing it in the Big East. Either or both could be very good; either or both could struggle. We just don’t know right now.
What is Xavier’s ceiling and floor?
BOTP: This is a team that can be playing in the third weekend of the tournament; the pieces are all there. In Sumner and Bluiett, Xavier has two legitimate stars with the potential to get hot and carry a multi-game run. In Davis, Macura, O’Mara, and Gates, they have four more guys who can really, really hurt other teams; each of those dudes demonstrated the ability to explode on the offensive end last year. If the frontcourt can give steady production and the Muskies stay healthy, this team can go deeper than any Xavier squad from the past.
The tournament is such a crap shoot that it’s hard to set a floor in terms of advancement, but I think the worst realistic regular season performance looks something like 9-11 losses and a mildly uncomfortable Selection Sunday. Xavier’s extraordinary Director of Basketball Administration Mario Mercurio has set up a rugged non-conference schedule for the Muskies; if all that battle testing goes a bit awry, this team could still be looking for answers when the calendar turns. Depth is a concern, so the wrong injury could really derail things for X.
Who should I be afraid of… and why?
BOTP: Trevon Bluiett will kill you and–as the Ellenson brothers found out last year–occasionally tell you about it. JP Macura will tell you about it whether he’s killing you or not. Neither of those guys is the scariest player on the roster.
Ed Sumner will kill you with a smile on his face. He’s a blur in the open court and a handful in sets. Not many PGs anywhere have his size, and the athleticism he brings is almost unfair. A year of experience under his belt will help him know when to push and when to pull back, but he has the potential to drop a monster game every time out, no matter what the opponent does. He’s kind of a belly shooter, but the threat of his first step gives him room to get his shot off with few problems. He’s getting stronger and more savvy, which is going to help him around the rim. The sky is the limit for this guy.
Rank the Big East.
1. Villanova. Until someone beats the Wildcats, it’s hard to see how they can be anything but first. Xavier got them once last year, but I seem to remember Nova’s last game being relatively significant.
2. Xavier. Lost a lot, but also retooled. Coach Mack hasn’t had a good off-season in terms of team discipline and the Myles Davis issue still is looming. All that said, this is clearly the other top tier team in the conference.
3. Seton Hall. Isaiah Whitehead never really did what he was supposed to do other than a late season surge last year. He capped that surge with one of the worst games in NCAA tournament history and then left for the NBA. Addition by subtraction might be a bit strong, but this team has the talent to make good on last year’s promise.
4. Georgetown. The Hoyas were puzzling last season. JT3’s team had loads of players, but never really came close to challenging Villanova and Xavier at the top of the conference. Whether they bounce back this year could determine Thompson’s fate.
5. Marquette. Ellenson is gone but another good recruiting class and some talented sophomores could get the Golden Eagles back in the NCAA picture. Make no mistake, there’s a gap between team four and team five here.
6. Creighton. The Bluejays were sneakily pretty good last year. Groselle and Milliken are gone, but Mo Watson Jr. and transfer Marcus Foster lead a roster that has enough talent to play themselves onto the bubble.
7. Butler. After the Bulldogs there is a big drop to the final three. Roosevelt Jones has finally completed his seven year stay and Kellen Dunham is gone as well. On second thought, maybe there is a bottom four this year.
8. Providence. Friar fans love to crow about how good a coach Ed Cooley is. Now is his chance to prove it, because they players he ran into the ground at the end of last year are gone.
9. St. John’s. Storyline of the year: Will Chris Mullin stop doing really weird things during games or is that just his coping mechanism?
10. DePaul. The Blue Demons weren’t good last year and brought in four recruits who don’t even manage an average three star rating. That’s probably not a good sign.