Key Departures: Edmond Sumner, Rashid Gaston, Malcolm Bernard
Projected Starting Lineup:
PG: Paul Scruggs (Fr.)
SG: J.P. Macura (Sr.)
SF: Trevon Bluiett (Sr.)
PF: Kaiser Gates (Jr.)
C: Sean O’Mara (Sr.)
Key Reserve Players:
SG/PG: Quentin Gooden (So.), PF: Tyrique Jones (So.), SF: Naji Marshall (Fr.), SF: Jared Ridder (Fr.), SG: Elias Harden (Fr.), C: Kerem Kanter (GS.), C: Kentrevious Jones (Fr.)
Chris Mack and the Musketeers enter the 2017-2018 season fresh off an Elite Eight appearance. Xavier was able to advance in the tournament, despite not having their star point guard Edmond Sumner. Even though he suffered an ACL tear, Sumner decided to turn pro, and was selected late in the second round of 2017 NBA draft. The good news for the Musketeers is that they retain their top two scorers in Bluiett and Macura, and they bring in the seventh best point guard in Paul Scruggs. Bluiett was one of the purest scorers in college basketball last season, and the trend will continue for his senior season. He averaged 18.5 points a season ago, and failed to score in double figures only three times in the games that he played in. My favorite game from Bluiett last year was his 40-point performance in a loss at Cincinnati. He played all 40 minutes, he was 12-15 from the field, and 9-11 from distance. He is so gifted offensively, and is conditioned to score the basketball. He is also a solid rebounder for a guard/forward player, averaging 5.7 boards last season. Along with Jalen Brunson of Villanova, I expect Bluiett to be a Player of the Year candidate in the Big East. J.P. Macura also returns for his senior year. Macura is the perfect glue guy and teammate to have on your team. He is a smart player, who is always hustling, competing on both ends of the floor, and making winning plays. He is able to contribute in many different ways both offensively and defensively. Macura and Bluiett will be huge leaders and scorers for this Xavier team.
Paul Scruggs takes over for Edmond Sumner, and brings plenty of versatility to the table. Scruggs brings great length to the point guard position, and court vision as well. He will be able to run this offense, and will be a great distributor in transition. He can really break down the defense with his passing and ball-handling. Quentin Gooden, who got very valuable minutes as a freshman (24 mpg), will be a very important guard off the bench. He was second (only to Sumner) in assists per game last year for Xavier.
At the four and the five, I have Kaiser Gates and Sean O’Mara. I love the versatility of Gates, and his ability to stretch out the defense. He should get plenty of minutes this year. O’Mara should get a good deal of minutes as well. O’Mara can score down low and has good touch in the paint. He averaged six points and three rebounds in just under 14 minutes of play last year. Tyrique Jones should see an increase in minutes as a sophomore. He gained good experience as a freshman, but only played 11 minutes per game. He will bring his physical play, energy, and rim protection off the bench. Kerem Kanter and Kentrevious Jones could see back up center minutes off the bench. Kanter, the younger brother of Enes, is a grad transfer from Wisconsin-Green Bay, where he averaged 11.3 points and 6.3 rebounds in just 19 minutes of action last year. Jones, is a three-star freshman beast, standing at 6’11”. However, he is still not officially on the roster.
Naji Marshall, Jared Ridder, and Elias Harden are three four-star perimeter guys on the ESPN Top 100 Chart, who will also be a part of the rotation. Marshall can get to the basket and can be a guy to feed in transition, and Ridder has a really smooth stroke. Harden brings shooting from mid-range and from beyond the arc. These three freshmen could see valuable minutes this year, and will eventually fill the holes created from the departures of both Bluiett and Macura.
Xavier has a chance to get back to the Elite Eight again. They have one of the best scorers in the country in Bluiett, and they have a very good recruiting class highlighted by Scruggs. The Musketeers always compete, and they can be a scary matchup for teams in March. I have Xavier at number 17 for the preseason list.