By Andy Mac Williams, 10/22/2019

America loves lists so here goes!! Associated Press released its Preseason College Basketball Top 25 Monday. XU was slotted at #19. The usual suspects line up from #1 through #4(Michigan State, Kentucky, Kansas-NCAA letter of investigation in file 13 and Duke). Chris Mack's Louisville Cards are #5. Mack convinced vets Steve Enoch and Jordan Nwora to stay around. The Florida Gators sit #6(Xavier could play them in the Charleston Classic Title Game Sunday November 24th in the South Carolina low country). The BIG EAST faired well landing Villanova at #10 and Seton Hall at #12 so along w/ X that's three BE teams in the TOP 25. 4 more BE schools received AP votes(Marquette is 29th-Georgetown 37th-Creighton 40th-Providence T 48th).


AP issued its first Top 20 back in the 1948-49 season around the time I was born(70 years ago) and when the NIT was more prestigious than the NCAA Tourney. Xavier wasn't rated at all until early in the 58-59 season when they climbed to 9th after winning the 1958 NIT. The Muskies lost back to back games vs Oklahoma City and Bowling Green and vanished from the rankings until late in the 87-88 season(Byron Larkin's Senior year. X sneaked in at #20 in early March after a wild comeback win at Niagara(with a giant portrait of 5-8 Hall of Fame guard Calvin Murphy glowering behind one basket at band box Taps Gallagher Center one block from the American Falls). X finished that season at #18 after a 30 year hiatus.

The next 33 years have been much more productive poll wise. The Muskies have been AP ranked for at least one week in 21 of 33 years(totally unrated in 12 campaigns). XU has shown up in the Preseason numbers 7 times including this season(2020) at #19(high water mark-2017 under Chris Mack at #7). Xavier has done better in Final Polls(the last week before the NCAA Tournament) w/ 12 end of season appearances(high water mark-2018 at #3-NCAA #1 Seed). The best overall AP Poll season for Xavier was 2017-2018. The team was ranked every week-opened at #17 and finished at the fore mentioned #3(highest spot ever in XU history). Bottom line-AP is great publicity stimulating all sorts of conversation and coverage. #19 currently gets XU on the board early, but being behind BIG EAST brethren Villanova and Seton Hall is a motivator w/ more spotlight and pressure on them. Power Ratings are more important.

Ken Pomeroy has issued his Preseason list w/ Xavier at #18( a strong starting point after winding up last season at #64 in KenPom). KP has Michigan State, UK and Louisville 1-2-3. In the BIG EAST, Villanova is #8-Marquette #17-XU#18-Seton Hall #20-PC#31-Butler#33-Creighton#36-Georgetown#56-DePaul#77 and St Johns#95. The NCAA will release its pet NET(NCAA evaluation tool) numbers daily as the season progresses. NET is vital in NCAA selection and seeding.


Friday night's TEAM 98 coming out party proved an unqualified success to Andy Mac. Cintas looked great even though it's approaching 20 years in service. DJ Bandcamp added to the positive vibe. The stroboscopic blue lights were trendy. Mel Moore's women's team looked well organized. It's a major rebuild. Patience is needed especially w/ UConn and Geno joining the BIG EAST next season. The only negative was Jason Carter's not playing for the men. He's a starter at power forward-4 man when healthy-adding experience(3 years at Ohio U) scoring(16PPG last season) ball handling, rebounding and overall steadiness. Hopefully, Jason is back for the Akron secret scrimmage Saturday.

I've read a few social media posts dissecting player performance in the 10 minute scrimmage. Folks! It was a show! A chance for 6 newbies(w/o Carter) to get comfortable w/ Cintas and crowds and each other playing in public. Mission accomplished IMHO. I've seen low scoring ultra tight Muskie scrimmages in past seasons. This group likes to run and entertain. Scoring was "no problem". Blue won 26-20. Travis mixed and matched players to produce a competitive game so there were some unusual combinations.

Naji is a stud(unanimous All BIG EAST-primo defender-great finish to last season despite ankle and back issues). He is not selfish nor a shot hunter. If he has the best shot in a possession, take it. Q powered through that shoulder injury last season and is now attacking the rim as few other PGs in the country can. Scruggs is an unselfish load of a guard w/ an NBA future. Tyrique is just a nasty force down low w/ an amazing motor(BEST BIG IN THE BIG EAST).

The new parts need to blend in w/ the Core 4 and thanks to the Spain trip and diligent Fall practice that integration is well underway. Be Patient! TEAM 98 is several light years ahead of TEAM 97. New guys are very talented and Core 4 are working hard to include and incorporate them. Zach Freemantle is BIG EAST ready right now. Travis labels him"productive" at both ends of the floor. He and Tyrique battle every day in practice to the benefit of both players.

Kyky Tandy is a Go-Go PG offering a nice change of pace to Q. Dahmir Bishop is earning his spurs every day in practice vs Naji Marshall. He's long and fast and confident shooting the rock. Dieonte Miles is a rare combo of length-speed and agility w/ a huge upside and wild card rim protecting skills in a much bigger BIG EAST. Travis gives Miles extra attention in practice trying to accelerate his learning process. The potential to help now is there. Miles takes the coaching well IMHO. Carter is solid. He had a strong showing in Spain and in practice before the injury. Bryce Moore is as advertised(quick release accurate 3 point shooter-aggressive on-the-ball defender).

The product is far from polished and finished, but the progress is impressive and apparent because I get to watch practice frequently as an old retired guy. This Xavier glass is way over half filled and maybe headed for overflow mode at some point in a long season.

The future is bright (at least 3 Top 100 recruits will sign for 2020 on November 13th. 15 more potential recruits were in the stands Friday evening (14 2021's and one 2022). The Xavier staff is solid and intact for Travis Steele's Year 2 w/ the positive addition of Matthew Graves as Special Assistant and Travis sounding board.

All systems go for a strong season IMHO and the BIG EAST platform is stronger than ever! Ken POM rates BE #2 conference after BIG 12 in his Preseason numbers w/ BIG 10 #3-ACC #4 and SEC#5. All 10 BIG EAST teams are in KP's Top 100. It's almost time to play for real (Tuesday November 5th-7PM at Cintas vs Jacksonville). Hurdles ahead-Secret Scrimmage Saturday October 26th vs Akron and D-2 Exhibition Game Wednesday October 30th at Cintas vs U of Indianapolis at 7PM). I'm bullish!!

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