Xavier TEAM 96-First Take!!
By Andy Mac Williams, 9/26/2017

Muskies' TEAM 96 launches full preseason practice this Sunday (October 1st). That's 40 days prior to the regular season Opener Friday night November 10th against Morehead State (OVC) at Cintas. Coach Mack and staff have 30 practices to blend six returnees from last season's NCAA Elite 8 TEAM 95 (Seniors Trevon Bluiett,J.P. Macura and Sean O'Mara, Junior Kaiser Gates and Sophomores Quentin Gooden and Tyrique Jones) with grad transfer Kerem Kanter and three Freshmen (Paul Scruggs, Naji Marshall and Elias Harden). The Xavier roster collectively has 41 games of NCAA Tournament experience. The three Seniors Trevon, J.P. and Sean have played in nine NCAA games each. That 41 games of NCAA exposure may be more than any other team in Division 1. I'm sure XU leads the Big East in that category.

Villanova's 2017-2018 roster sports 32 NCAA games. That includes guard Phil Booth who missed almost all of last season with chronic knee issues after starring in 2016 Final Four wins over Oklahoma and North Carolina. Booth is back to full go.

Experience counts and this is Chris Mack's most experienced team with four rotational Seniors including Kerem Kanter (6-10 lefty post/4 man from Wisconsin Green Bay-Horizon League). Mack's coaching and support staff returns basically intact for a third year. That's huge!! The division of labor and message to the players is clear focused and well defined. The staff chemistry is terrific.

Powering through adversity is nothing new to this group of players and coaches. Witness last season!! The Myles Davis saga-Edmund Sumner's season ending injury-Trevon Bluiett's high ankle sprain-the 6 game losing streak. Most teams would have capitulated-pulled the shute!!. Pick an excuse!! Woe is me!! It's not our year!! Xavier chose to keep punching and pulled off an epic Houdini act-squeezing into the NCAA Field of 68 as an 11 seed then "upsetting??" 6 seed Maryland, 3 seed Florida State and 2 seed Arizona before losing to Gonzaga. Mack's goal is to have his team playing their best in March. Mission accomplished brilliantly with TEAM 95.

TEAM 96 on paper in late September is as talented and as experienced as any Muskie group I've seen in my 34 years around the program. Now it's time to assemble the parts-teach the terminology-learn the packline and be prepared for whatever new road blocks get tossed into Xavier's fast lane to a potential Final Four.

The Las Vegas odds for Xavier winning the NCAA Title are posted at 80-1. 25 other teams have a better chance of winning it all say the sports books.That's crazy and absurd!! Granted we're in a fly over State, but don't these people pay attention?? I never wager on anything. I'm so tight, but I may raid the piggy bank to capture that value.

OFF-SEASON OBSERVATIONS:

Strength and Conditioning Coach Matt Jennings has done yeoman's work and the players have bought in BIG TIME. Weight Lifting is the anchor supplemented by yoga, jujitsu and trips to Ignition Training. Trevon Bluiett has raised his conditioning level yet again. He's a more ripped than ever 192 ish. Sleek-fast and ready to play 2 guard for some NBA team after a productive Senior season that will probably vault him to Number 2 all time in Xavier scoring behind Byron Larkin (2,696 points).

Kaiser Gates has added muscle to around 228 pounds while retaining that almost instant acceleration. He's on an Aaron Williams trajectory physically. What a difference!! He was limited last off-season because of the knee dislocation. Gates posted terrific NCAA lines against Maryland (11 points) and FSU (14 points in 30 minutes).

The Seminoles bragged in their Game Notes about leading the NCAA in dunks. Their mantra revolved around crushing teams inside. Gates helped Xavier beat FSU at their own game as did Tyrique Jones. He dunked 5 times against Florida State making an emphatic point on the low block. Tyrique is more burly than ever after a million reps in the weight room. I can't wait for his paint battles with Angel Delgado (Seton Hall), Tyler Wideman (Butler) and Ethan Happ (at Wisconsin-Gavitt Games-Thursday November 16th). Tyrique should be able to play for longer stretches this season with better conditioning and more experience in the packline defense.

Sean O'Mara learned a bunch on his All Star trip to Spain under Coach Larry Brown. He's primed for a primo XU Big Man Senior year along the path plowed by Aaron Williams and James Farr and Jason Love and Larry Sykes. Sean scored the winning bucket against Arizona in the NCAAs and was a rock on the block in NYC and the NCAA Tournament.

Quentin Gooden set an XU vertical jump record in testing(44 inches) a few weeks ago. "Q" played from the St Johns game in NYC (January 29th) where Edmund was injured until Gonzaga with a painful foot injury. He saw his minutes soar from 7/game to 37/game while dealing with that foot problem. A healthy Gooden will be able to finish better around the rim and above it.

The three Frosh all seem capable of earning spots in the regular rotation. They're more physically advanced than most Frosh I've seen and they're confident. Who starts? Who finishes? How many play double digit minutes? Competitive practices will decide those questions. The material is off-the-charts good.

PRESEASON SCHEDULE:

Musketeer Madness is set for Friday evening October 20th at Cintas with Mens' and Womens' scrimmages as part of the program. Xavier plays Ohio State in a closed scrimmage game Saturday October 28th. Chris Holtman (Butler) is the new Buckeye coach. Maybe there's hope for a Xavier-OSU series down the road?? The Exhibition Game is Saturday afternoon November 4th (4PM) against Thomas More College from Northern Kentucky.

REGULAR SEASON SCHEDULE:

Xavier plays a record 18 home games. There are 13 non-conference games including 9 at Cintas (Baylor 11-28, UC 12-2, Colorado 12-9)-2 on the road (at Wisconsin and at Northern Iowa) and 2 in Las Vegas over Thanksgiving (GW on 11-23 then either K-State or Arizona State on 11-24). The 18 game Big East schedule opens Wednesday Dec 27th at Marquette. There are two byes built into the Big East schedule thus the slightly earlier start. XU will play Villanova in Philadelphia early again(Game 5-Wednesday January 10th). VU's on-campus gym (The Pavilion) is being renovated so the game will be staged downtown at the 20,000 seat Wells Fargo Arena. Villanova's at Cintas Saturday February 17th.

STAY TUNED!!

Brad Redford and I will be debuting a Xavier/College Basketball Podcast shortly. Redford will also be showcasing his considerable rapping abilities. Redford and I will be hosting our Pregame Lounge act at Duff's in Cintas again prior to all home games. Byron Larkin and I will preview TEAM 96 at a Musketeer Club function on Wednesday evening November 1st at Envision Cinema in Blue Ash. For details contact the Musketeer Club website or check musketeermadness.com soon.




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