Chris Mack and the Musketeers exceeded expectations last season, winning 28 games and spending much of the year ranked in the top 10.
This season, with arguably their three top players back, the Musketeers will be expected to contend for the Big East title and be a player on the national stage.
“It’s going to be interesting,” Mack says. “Last year we ended the season with a chip on our shoulder. This year is somewhat of a reversal — everyone telling us how good we are. But none of that means anything.”
While Xavier exceeded expectations throughout the 2015-16 regular-season, finishing 14-4 in Big East play, the Musketeers were upset by Wisconsin in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
All Big East predictions and a full preview of each team in the conference can be found in the Athlon Sports 2016-17 Preview Magazine, available in our online store and on newsstands everywhere.
At a Glance
HEAD COACH: Chris Mack
2015-16 RECORD (BIG EAST): 28–6 (14–4)
2015-16 POSTSEASON: NCAA: Lost to Wisconsin 66–63 in the second round
2016-17 PREDICTION: Second in the Big East
G Remy Abell (6.4 ppg)
G James Farr (10.7 ppg, 7.8 rpg)
F Jalen Reynolds (9.6 ppg, 6.5 rpg)
The frontcourt is where Xavier will need to find some answers. Both James Farr and Jalen Reynolds, the team’s top two interior players, are gone — with Farr graduating and Reynolds leaving for the pros after his junior campaign. The duo combined to average in excess of 20 points and 14 boards. Skilled forward Makinde London, who played sparingly as a freshman, also decided to transfer, so the frontcourt will have a completely different look this season.
Trevon Bluiett, a 6'6" junior from Indianapolis, can play both forward spots. He led the team in scoring, at 15.1 points per game, and also added 6.1 rebounds. An adept shooter from the perimeter — he converted on nearly 40 percent of his 3-point attempts — Bluiett is a tough matchup when he plays the 4.
Skilled sophomore Kaiser Gates and junior big man Sean O’Mara should have an opportunity for increased playing time with the departure of Farr and Reynolds. Gates is a stretch-4 who will need to be better from the 3-point line after hitting only 33.3 percent as a freshman. O’Mara is a true low-post guy who can rebound and take up space in the middle.
Look for RaShid Gaston, who sat out last season after transferring from Norfolk State, to get plenty of minutes and likely even earn a starting spot. Gaston averaged 15.5 points and 9.6 rebounds as a junior and should fill the role vacated by Reynolds.
The Musketeers also added freshman Tyrique Jones, who should give the team a physical, tough player who can rebound.
Led by sophomore point guard Edmond Sumner, the backcourt should be the strength of the team. Sumner was a huge surprise as a redshirt freshman and was a big reason Xavier enjoyed so much success last season. He will need to improve his offensive efficiency after shooting 39.7 percent overall and 30.1 percent from the arc. Sumner possesses the size and athleticism that NBA teams covet, but he opted not to test the draft waters after the 2015-16 season.
Sumner will play alongside Myles Davis, whose biggest strength is his outside shooting; he’s made better than 38 percent of his 3s in each of the last two seasons. This duo should form one of the top backcourts in the Big East.
With Remy Abell gone, expect junior guard J.P. Macura to hold the inside track to the final starting spot. The 6'5" Macura is a capable perimeter shooter who averaged 9.4 points last season despite playing only 22.7 minutes per game. He’ll also give Mack and the Musketeers added toughness.
Freshman Quentin Goodin, a combo guard, will see some time off the bench and could take over for Sumner in 2017-18 — if Sumner heads to the NBA. The Musketeers further bolstered their depth on the perimeter with the addition of versatile 6'6" grad transfer Malcolm Bernard in July. The 22-year-old Bernard averaged 14.4 points and 7.1 boards last season at Florida A&M.
Grad transfer Malcolm Bernard is the veteran of the group, and he should get plenty of minutes off the bench due to his size, experience and versatility. RaShid Gaston averaged close to a double-double at Norfolk State two years ago. Quentin Goodin is a combo guard with a body like a linebacker. He’ll also see playing time due to a lack of depth on the perimeter. Tyrique Jones should fill a role due to his ability to rebound at a high level.
Xavier could challenge Villanova for Big East supremacy. The Musketeers boast one of the nation’s top point guards in Sumner and have enough quality pieces elsewhere to compensate for the losses in the frontcourt.
Mack’s team will need to rebound at a high level to win big.
“We lost a lot of rebounding from a year ago,” he says. “And we always pride ourselves on being able to rebound on both ends. That will be a big question for us. They aren’t as proven, but they are really tough.”