Top 68 Team Previews: #18 Xavier Musketeers
Tu Holloway is the preseason favorite for A-10 Player of the Year. (Icon SMI)
By Ryan Feldman
Wednesday, October 12, 2011
Last Season: 24-8 (15-1)
Key Losses: Jamel McLean, Dante Jackson
Head Coach: Chris Mack
Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Tu Holloway 6-0 Sr.
SG: Mark Lyons 6-1 Jr.
SF: Justin Martin 6-7 Fr.
PF: Jeff Robinson 6-9 Jr.
C: Kenny Frease 7-0 Sr.
Key Reserves: Andre Walker 6-7 Sr. PF, Dezmine Wells 6-4 Fr. SF, Brad Redford 6-0 Jr. SG, Dee Davis 5-11 Fr. PG, Travis Taylor 6-7 Jr. SF
In recent years, Xavier has been a mainstay in the Sweet 16 and beyond in the NCAA tournament. But last year was different. After the Musketeers cruised to a 15-1 record in the Atlantic 10, the season ended prematurely. A one-point upset loss to Dayton in the A-10 tournament quarterfinals was followed by a first round exit in the NCAA tournament to Marquette.
This year, the Musketeers bring back the large majority of their roster, including All-American candidate Tu Holloway, and add a few impact newcomers. The A-10 is pretty much a race between Xavier and Temple this year, but the Musketeers have their sights set beyond the conference slate. Chris Mack has the talent, experience and depth to lead his team to the Sweet 16, Elite Eight or possibly even deeper in March.
The depth and experience is there for the Musketeers, but no matter what it all starts with Holloway. The 6-foot senior guard did it all last season for his team. He averaged 19.7 points, 5.4 assists and 5.0 rebounds per game. He also led the team in steals (1.4 per game) and free throw percentage (87.0). But the negatives for Holloway were his shooting percentages (42.4 from the field, 34.5 from 3-point range) and turnovers (3.4 per game). Holloway had the ball in his hands all the time last year, but the Musketeers are deeper this year so he should be able to rely more on his teammates. If Holloway can act as a point guard and look to get his teammates involved while limiting his jumpers to rhythm shots, the Musketeers will be even better than they were last year.
It's difficult to say who the next best Musketeer is after Holloway because there are so many capable role players. Two key returnees are Mark Lyons and Kenny Frease. Lyons was second on the team in scoring with 13.6 points per game starting next to Holloway in the backcourt. Lyons is a terrific athlete who can do a little of everything on the court. Frease, who averaged 11.7 points and 7.1 rebounds per game last season, is a 7-footer who can score in the post and provide a strong defensive presence in the paint.
Travis Taylor, a transfer from Monmouth, is a 6-foot-7 small forward who practiced with the Musketeers last season while sitting out. He led Monmouth in scoring (17.8 ppg) and rebounding (7.6 rpg) as a sophomore. He may not put up the same numbers at Xavier as he did at Monmouth but he certainly will be a key contributor this season.
Andre Walker is another impact transfer for the Musketeers. The 6-foot-7 forward transferred from Vanderbilt, where he averaged 3.0 points and 3.0 rebounds in 17.7 minutes per game last season. He was much more productive as a sophomore at Vandy, when he started 31 games and averaged 6.1 points and 5.4 rebounds per game.
The Musketeers will be happy to have Brad Redford back after a knee injury resulted in season-ending ACL surgery. The 6-foot guard is arguably one of the best pure shooters in the country. He can flat-out stroke it from deep. He shot 46.5 percent on 3-point attempts as a freshman and 42.5 percent as a sophomore.
Jeff Robinson, a 6-foot-9 forward who averaged 4.4 points and 3.1 rebounds in 16.8 minutes per game last season, will compete for a starting spot in the frontcourt, along with Walker, Taylor, and freshmen Dezmine Wells and Justin Martin.
Wells is a 6-foot-4, 220-pound wing from Raleigh, N.C. who chose Xavier over Boston College, NC State, Baylor, Virginia Tech and South Carolina. He has the strength to drive to the basket and score inside against smaller guards but can also knock down perimeter and mid-range jumpers with consistency. Martin is a 6-foot-7 forward who redshirted last year. He is a very good outside shooter who can use his size to shoot over smaller defenders.
The idea of Holloway improving upon his gaudy numbers from last year and garnering All-American attention is almost a given. But the Musketeers need other players to emerge as viable options in order for the team to remain a Top 25 team all season long. With so much depth and talent, there's little doubt that players will emerge and lead Xavier to another NCAA tournament run.