Transitioning From Xavier TEAM 95 to TEAM 96!!
By Andy Mac Williams, 4/21/2017

How do we meaningfully summarize The Muskies' 2016-2017 season and turn the page to 2017-2018? There were so many twists and turns and obstacles to overcome. The preseason predictions were exceedingly rosey(Top 10 nationally) in many way-too-early prognostications. Two veteran BIGS were gone(James Farr and Jalen Reynolds) and glue guard Myles Davis put himself into eligibility limbo. TEAM 94 had struggled down the stretch especially on defense. The high water mark was achieved in late February at Cintas with a dynamic 90-83 win over #1 Villanova.XU earned a program best #2 NCAA seed,but finished up 3-3 over the final 6 games with that crushing Round of 32 NCAA loss in St Louis to Wisconsin with Bronson Koenig's buzzer beating three pointer proving to be the final dagger.

TEAM 95 ROARED OUT OF THE GATE!!

The 13-2 start seemed to validate those lofty predictions. There were three wins in the Orlando Tournament and quality home "Ws" over Wake Forest and Utah. The road defeats at Baylor and Colorado were understandable,but troubling exposing some warts(free throw shooting,second half defensive meltdowns,struggles to close out games).The Big East started well with three victories(Providence,at Georgetown,St Johns).

LET THE BAD NEWS BEGIN!!

Villanova at the Pavilion is never fun. Myles Davis dressed,but it seemed clear he was not ready to contribute. Edmond Sumner tore the labrum in his left shoulder after being body slammed.The carnage continued with losses at Butler and home to Creighton.Both games were lost in the final 4 minute war.XU ran the Big East gauntlet unsuccessfully going 0-3.The record 13-5.

STAGE 1 OF RESILIENCE!!

Myles Davis left the team. Sumner was playing with a shoulder brace. The Muskies adapted-taking out Georgetown. The Crosstown Shootout turned into an ambush in Clifton. Sumner wasn't himself(injury and foul trouble). Trevon Bluiett poured in 40 points but the Bearcats hammered Xavier on the glass and won 86-78. There was a silver lining!!

Frosh Quentin Gooden and Tyrique Jones thrived in the super charged wildly physical atmosphere. They'd prove their true value later. Sumner blew out his knee on that Sunday night vs St Johns at MSG. PG Gooden stepped in and led XU to a road win. "Q's" minutes soared at Creighton and home vs DePaul. He played like a veteran. Xavier won both.

Tyrique was huge at Creighton outplaying Blue Jay NBA prospect Justin Patton. 5 wins in 6 games despite losing Davis and Sumner.The record 18-6.

THINGS GO FROM BAD TO WORSE!!

Villanova triggered a 6 game losing streak. Bluiett reinjured an ankle-missed the next two games and was well below 100% for the next three. The offense withered away(Funny how that works when you subtract a 20PPG scorer). 0-6.The Record 18-12.

THE NCAA PUSH!!

Malcolm Bernard called a players only meeting. Bluiett's ankle improved. The NCAA numbers were salvageable re RPI and Strength of Schedule. The coaches put together a winning formula featuring more zone defense-more patient offense and the players bought in.Three straight wins were needed and achieved(at DePaul,DePaul and Butler at the BIG East Tourney in NYC). The defense got stingy(65PPG).

The offense started to percolate. Bluiett shot it well. Bernard and Macura played great all-court games. Sean O'Mara emerged as a low block producer. Gooden ran the point well.FT shooting and three point numbers improved considerably.

Xavier won those critical final four minute wars except for Creighton in the Big East Semis,but the effort was certainly there in that 75-72 loss and the NCAA Bid was secured. The record 21-13 with that 3-1 final spurt.

MORE NCAA FUN THAN EXPECTED!!

Xavier squeezed out a #11 Seed. I guess a lot of folks were worried on Selection Sunday when the Muskies didn't show up until late in the CBS show but after the Butler win,XU had to be "in". Any angst was worth it!! I liked the draw immediately. Big Ten Maryland(#6 Seed) was young and overrated and had struggled late. Xavier controlled their star Melo Trimble and won easily.

ACC Florida State(#3 Seed) hadn't been to the Dance since 2012. Leonard Hamilton teams are usually March under achievers. XU imposed their half court style and won in a blow-out.

PAC 12 Arizona(#2 Seed) was more problematic with their cast of McDonald's All Americans and resourceful Coach Sean Miller. Again,UA was short on NCAA experience. Chris Mack and company stuck with their game plan and forced Zona to live by the jumper. Xavier's late rally might have been a bit lucky,but the execution was brilliant and they made the shots.

Mack's NCAA record speaks for itself(10-7 overall with four trips to the Second Weekend-3 Sweet 16s and now an Elite 8). The 83-59 loss to Gonzaga wasn't pretty. The Zags more than matched the Muskies in experience. They handled the switching defenses well and killed XU from outside the arc 12 made threes to 2(plus 30 points).

GU's mix of transfers and 5th year guys was just too much. It was their time and they almost won the NCAA Title in their first Final Four trip. I'd like to see another home and home XU-Gonzaga Series initiated. The Muskies are 0-4 vs the Zags recently(since 2006) and it's time to get even.

EARLY THOUGHTS ON TEAM 96!!

So far the coaching and support staff has stayed in tact. That's a major plus!! Chris Mack has assembled a terrific group. Keeping everyone focused through last season's barrage of speed bumps was huge. Shrugging off the injuries and the 6 game losing streak is the epitome of resilience and persistence. The excuses were there to justify folding the tent.

Players developed and grew through adversity. PG Gooden learned on the fly to become a top flight lead guard. Sean O'Mara stuck with it and became a mainstay on the block. XU got better in tactical situations(late game execution-out of bounds plays-press break etc). That's great coaching and communication.

THE VETERAN ROSTER:

5 scholarship players return for sure. PG Quentin Gooden will be shooting a million FTs and launching many three pointers over the summer.He'll be unguardable if defenses have to respect his jumper. Guards usually make their biggest improvement between freshman and sophomore years. "Qs" ceiling is high with his elite size-driving and defending ability.

J.P. Macura's game matured through last season's adversity. He learned to play PG and became a better decision maker. His pestering all court game should expand even more when he can play a solid 30 minutes instead of a straining 36.

O'Mara's confidence level has to be high now after strong contributions in NYC and the NCAA. He should take his place among productive Senior Muskie BIGS like Larry Sykes and Jason Love and James Farr who have matured into low block forces over four years.

Kaiser Gates stepped up in the NCAAs especially against Maryland and FSU. He rebounded well after recovering from that early knee problem. Kaiser is a rare combo of inside strength and outside shooting.

Tyrique Jones had some Frosh growing pains defensively and fought through some knee issues,but he will be a low block force. He was a destroyer against Creighton and DePaul and FSU and UC. Tyrique seems to thrive on contact around the basket.

FRESHMEN NEWCOMERS:

5 players make up the 2017 recruiting group at the moment. There could be a late addition?? PG Paul Scruggs is Top 30 nationally-played at Prolific Academy in Napa Valley,California after starring at Indianapolis Southport HS. He's a big physical driver and defender.

Naji Marshall is a 6-7 wing and Top 50 player who played at Hargrave Military(David West,Stanley Burrell,Jordan Crawford).

Elias Harden is a 6-5 two guard from Atlanta. 6-7 Jarred Ritter is a lanky shooter and Missouri HS Gatoraide Player of the Year. 6-11 Kentrevious Jones from Macon,Georgia has potential to be a powerful low block load.

Xavier's Class is rated highly nationally. They'll be arriving soon and hopefully will measure up to some of the great Muskie classes(1996-Brown-Lumpkin-Posey-Williams)(2014-Bluiett-Macura-O'Mara).

ROSTER WILDCARDS:

Trevon Bluiett has declared for the NBA Draft again without hiring an agent. It will be interesting to see if he's invited to the NBA Pre-draft camp in Chicago(May 9-14). He was not included last season,but worked out for several NBA teams. The Boston Celtics have 4 draft choices including 3 second rounders. Bluiett knows Celts coach Brad Stevens from Indianapolis and Butler recruiting. Is that a fit??

Trevon will be surrounded by a deeper more talented roster as part of TEAM 96 maybe capable of a deep NCAA run. He could easily become XU's second all time leading scorer behind Byron Larkin and enhance his status for the next NBA Draft when the talent pool is considered weaker.

6-10 240 pound potential Grad transfer Kerem Kanter has also declared for the NBA Draft without hiring an agent. He blossomed as a Junior at Wisconsin-Green Bay. His brother Enes is a star for OKC of the NBA. The Kanter's are from Turkey. Kerem may not be drafted at all. He may be gauging his status and a year at Xavier could enhance his appeal to the NBA next draft. He might also consider signing a pro deal in Europe. Who knows??

I'd suggest the chance of both Bluiett and Kanter playing for Xavier TEAM 96 is well above 50%. That leaves one scholarship open(or two or three depending on Bluiett and Kanter). Coach Mack was caught shorthanded last season when Myles Davis was suspended and Larry Austin and Makinde London transferred.

I'd expect at least one more signee(either a true freshman or a red shirt or even a grad if the numbers are there and the talent is a fit). Let the 13 scholarship guys compete for playing time. The rotation will take care of itself.

THE SCHEDULE:

Xavier will play in the 8 team Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational. The first two games will be staged at Cintas. X gets two of these four teams(Cal Irvine,Hampton,Rider,Northern Arizona). X and Kansas State,Arizona State and George Washington all move on to Orleans Arena in Vegas to play November 23 and 24. Match-ups will be announced later.

A Gavitt Games date at Cintas against a Big Ten team is up in the air. XU played at Michigan in 2015(and won). Scheduling difficulties prevented a Cintas game in 2016.

The Muskies will host the UC Bearcats,Baylor and Colorado. Road games are set for Utah and Northern Iowa. The Skip Prosser Classic will be resumed in the 2018-2019 season at Wake Forest.




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