Musketeer Madness-2017 Edition!!
By Andy Mac Williams, 10/23/2017

It was all systems GO!!! Friday night at Cintas. The weather cooperated and the outdoor activities around the Statue of D'Artagnan went off smoothly. I did miss out on the free UDF ice cream cup though. Irrepressible Lew Hirt Society charter member Tim Keener was the first friendly face I spied. He told me of his recent pilgrimage to Minster, Ohio where he introduced Walt McBride (Xavier Class of 1986) to the pleasures of the annual Fall Festival. Stan Kimbrough (1989) and his young son were present. We told Stan's boy about his dad's remarkable three seasons as a Muskie guard (1598 points). Stan got me thinking about the epic Preseason NIT game against Louisville in November 1988 at Riverfront Coliseum. The Muskies upset the 4th rated Cards 85-83. U of L had just won the Great Alaska Shootout. Denny Crum wore a full length seal skin coat to prove they'd made the trip. Kimbrough poured in 35 points and outplayed Louisville frosh phenom guard Lebradford Smith.

I then ran into Malcolm Bernard. He was waiting for the results of Saturday's NBA "G" (as in Gatorade) League Draft. Malcolm was selected 13th in the First Round and will now go to camp with the Grand Rapids (Michigan) Drive (Detroit Pistons farm club). Bernard made the absolute most of his postgraduate year at Xavier-calling a late February team meeting in the wake of that 6 game losing streak-playing his best basketball at the Big East Tournament and in the NCAAs-leading XU in postseason rebounding and dribbling out the final few seconds in that terrific Sweet 16 win over #2 seed Arizona. 2018 Muskie recruit Jake Walter (Covington Catholic High School) and family (including dad Stan-former Bengal offensive tackle) were in attendance also.

CINTAS CHANGES FOR THE BETTER:

The crowd (over 6300) got an eye full!! Many gallons of navy blue paint have been applied to the arena walls. New lighting has been focused more on the playing floor. The atmosphere is much more dramatic now with illumination poured on the court(like Cincinnati Gardens or Madison Square Garden). The student section under the West(??) basket has been expanded by about 100 seats. Actually,the seats are now benches/bleachers and the area has a new name "The Holy Land". The students should be louder-crazier and more creative than ever.

New boutique seating areas have popped up all over the arena including mini-suites on the front level of the Joseph Lounge-new seating cantilevered over the student section and the Woods Bar installed in the upper reaches. The new electronic ribbon boards at each end of the court add color and excitement.

FIRST PUBLIC LOOK FOR XAVIER TEAM 96:

There was no slam dunk contest which was fine by me. The dunking in the lay-up line was impressive enough especially Frosh Naji Marshall and Sophomore BIG Tyrique Jones. J.P. Macura did not participate because of an ankle sprain. He should be good to go in the NCAA sanctioned super secret scrimmage against Ohio State somewhere in the Cincinnati area Saturday October 28th.

Junior Forward Kaiser Gates won the three point shooting competition in a playoff against Grad Transfer BIG Karem Kanter. Gates is noticeably stronger after a full summer of conditioning and may start at Power Forward. 9 healthy scholarship players plus Soph walk-on guard Leighton Schrand were split up into Blue(Sean O'Mara-Elias Harden-Kaiser Gates-Naji Marshall-Quentin Gooden) and White(Trevon Bluiett-Tyrique Jones-Karen Kanter-Paul Scruggs-Leighton Schrand) teams. White won 20-17. Was the offense great of was the defense porous? Who knows?

The talent level is obviously very high. Players haven't rested on their NCAA Elite 8 laurels. Everybodies' stronger and more skilled. Bluiett is trimmer and quicker to the basket. Gooden has shed the foot injury-has his 44 inch vertical leap back and can now show his finishing acumen around the rim. "Q" beat a very good defender(Scruggs) to the basket several times and displayed a lethal hesitation tear drop floater move that reminded me of Drew Lavendar and/or Darnell Williams Guards are said to make their biggest improvement between Freshman and Sophomore years(BIG GUYS tend to be late bloomers). Gooden is a poster child for that theory although he played terrific basketball for XU after Ed Sumner went down in late January.

Naji Marshall has a long wing span and a great all-court feel for the game. He reminds me of James Posey who played the 6th man role for two years then took off as a starter. Scruggs will be getting substantial minutes in the backcourt. Harden is fast on fast with a deadly shooting stroke. Tyrique just dominated inside. His summer work is very apparent. Kanter adds a skilled scoring dimension to the 4-5 power player group. His baseline jumper and corner three ball are killer plus he's a lefty.

TEAM 96 should be able to score the ball efficiently with a variety of weapons and the usual Muskie share-the-ball mentality. Defense is the wild card. How quickly will the packline be assimilated by the new guys? How much zone will be sprinkled into the equation? Rebounding should be a very strong suite as always. Free throw chances will be there(but can the BIGS bury a decent percentage??). Who starts? More importantly who finishes? How deep is the rotation?

ODDS AND ENDS:

The NCAA has allowed closed scrimmages against other D-1 teams since about 2008. Sean Miller liked one scrimmage mixed with one public exhibition game against a D-2,D-3 or NAIA opponent. Chris Mack has continued the pattern. This season XU scrimmages Ohio State behind closed doors then plays Thomas More College(NCAA D-3) at Cintas Saturday afternoon November 4th at 4PM.

The Muskies have played Akron-Ohio U-Cleveland State-West Virginia(twice) among others. Two years back Xavier met Illinois at Franklin College in Indiana in the battle of the half brothers(John Groce-Ill-eye-n-eye head coach vs Travis Steele-Muskie associate head coach). Last season XU traveled to Nashville to play Georgia(SEC). Chris Mack and the Georgia coach were friends from a Nike trip.

Other 2018 scrimmages of note-Creighton is playing two. Minnesota is closed. Nebraska-Omaha is public for charity. Marquette plays Northwestern then has a fund raiser in Milwaukee against Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Seton Hall meets Boston College. UConn plays the PC Friars. Georgetown takes on VCU. Dayton has NKU.

KEN POM PRE SEASON 2018 NUMBERS:

Most preseason ratings are interesting on some level, but worthless-pointless and based strictly on opinion. Obviously,nobody has played anybody. Those glossy magazines were published in July for goodness sake!! Ken Pomeroy uses some data and has a reasonable predictive model he works with so his ratings may hold some water. He has Villanova #2 in the Country winning the Big East with a 14-4 record. Xavier slots in at #26 nationally-#3 Big East at 11-7(21-9 overall)-tied with Providence at 11-7.

Pomeroy ranks the Big 12 as the top conference again with Big East moving up to second(70% of BE scoring is returning-veteran league). SEC jumps up to #3. ACC slips to #4. Big Ten #5. PAC 12 #6. AAC #7. A-10 #8.




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