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Budding star Christon looks to end Musketeers' Tourney drought
This preview and more on Xavier and the Big East are available in the Athlon Sports 2013-14 College Basketball Preseason Annual. The magazine is available online or on newsstands everywhere.
Xavier Facts & Figures
Last season: 17-14 (9-7 Atlantic 10)
Coach: Chris Mack (90-44 at Xavier)
Big East projection: Sixth
Postseason projection: NCAA First Four
For the first time since 2005, there was no postseason basketball at Xavier last March.
Don’t get used to it.
Chris Mack, who is 46 games over .500 in four seasons as the head coach at his alma mater, has reloaded his roster and put his program is position for a successful inaugural season in the revamped Big East.
Matt Stainbrook is the biggest addition, at least in stature. The 6-10 center played his first two seasons at Western Michigan, where he averaged 8.8 points and 6.4 rebounds as a freshman and 11.4 and 6.8 as a sophomore. The Ohio native dropped 50-plus pounds while sitting out last season as a transfer, but his progress was slowed by a torn meniscus is his right knee suffered in February. Stainbrook underwent surgery and rehab, and is expected to be a go-to player in the paint this season. His weight loss has improved his mobility and stamina, which should help fill the void left by former rebounding leader Travis Taylor.
The elder statesman of the frontcourt is power forward Isaiah Philmore, a bullish big-bodied Maryland native who came on strong late in his first season at Xavier after transferring from Towson. He averaged 7.5 points and 5.0 rebounds on the season but scored in double figures in seven of his last 11 games. Philmore emerged as a leader who earned his teammates’ respect through his physical play.
Jalen Reynolds, an explosive 6-9 forward who can shoot outside and attack the rim, is in the frontcourt mix after being ineligible last year. He joins freshman Aleksandar Vezenkov, a 6-8 combo forward with a mid-range game and experience against high-level European players. Vezenkov has played on Bulgarian junior national teams and as an amateur member of the Greek pro team Aris.
Sophomore James Farr, a 6-9 forward, remains a question mark. Although he improved last year, Farr struggled defensively and played limited minutes. Erik Stenger is 6-8 local product who provides energy off the bench in limited minutes.
The most intriguing battle could be at the small forward position. Junior Justin Martin has the most experience, but his production decreased as the season progressed. He scored 10 points or more in the first eight games but hit double figures only four times the rest of the way. Vezenkov could slide over to the 3 and create some mismatches for opposing small forwards. Freshman Kamall Richards, who brings physicality to the position, could be a factor as well.
The backcourt is anchored by guard Semaj Christon, who overcame an elbow injury and recurring cramps as a rookie to lead Xavier in scoring (15.2 ppg), assists (4.6 apg) and steals (1.5 spg). Christon was a second-team All-A-10 pick and became Xavier’s first A-10 Rookie of the Year.
Christon’s court awareness and attacking mentality carried Xavier through some tough spots. A former top-40 national recruit, Christon needs to emerge as more of a threat from 3-point range (he made only seven all season) and cut down on his turnovers (team-leading 109), but he has the ability to be one of the better combo guards in the nation as a sophomore.
Dee Davis, a junior, returns as Xavier’s starting point guard. He is an outstanding perimeter defender who will be asked to guard some of the better perimeter players in the Big East. Davis needs to be more efficient inside the arc — he hit only 42.2 percent of his 2-point field goals — but did a nice job keeping defenses honest by shooting 36.8 percent from long range.
Myles Davis and Brandon Randolph are expected to solidify the backcourt. Ineligible last year, Davis begins his Musketeers career with a reputation as an elite-level shooter. Randolph is a top prospect who’s dangerous in the open court.
Matt Stainbrook, who has two years of eligibility after transferring from Western Michigan, will provide a presence inside. Myles Davis and Jalen Reynolds, both ineligible last season, weren’t allowed to participate in team activities in ’12-13. Both should contribute right away. Aleksandar Vezenkov, a spring signee, is a skilled big man who can shoot from the outside. Brandon Randolph will see time as a backup point guard. Kamall Richards is a physical wing player.
Factoid: 87.4. Xavier has won 87.4 percent of its games at the Cintas Center. The Musketeers are 173–25 at the on-campus arena that opened for the 2000-01 season.
Xavier possesses what it lacked last season — depth. An influx of talent both in the frontcourt and on the perimeter will allow Mack to employ a variety of different looks.
Christon will once again be the primary weapon on offense, but the Musketeers will have scoring threats at every spot on the court. The defense, always a strength, will be tested on a more consistent basis in the more challenging Big East, but Xavier has the ingredients necessary to a significant player in its new league.
Photo courtesy of Bob Stevens