While the 2010-11 season has to be considered a success for this Xavier program, this team knows in its heart that it was much better than its 66-55 first-round loss to 12th-seed Marquette in the NCAA tournament as the No. 5 seed in the East Region.
The Musketeers rolled to a regular-season Atlantic 10 title with a sparkling 15-1 conference record, but was denied a conference tournament title with a 68-67 loss to Dayton as an eight-point favorite.
Overall, Xavier went 24-8 on the year straight-up, but it was just 14-16-1 against the spread in games with a posted line. The total was evenly split at 15-15 in the 30 games.
The Musketeers return a wealth of talent from last season, most notably its leading scorer, guard Tu Holloway. If this team is going to make any kind of run towards this season’s national title, it will be squarely on his back. The reigning Player of the Year in the A-10 averaged 20.2 points a game last year, and also led the team in assists with 5.5 a game.
Another key player back this season is guard Mark Lyons, who was second on the team in scoring with 13.6 points per game, and second on the squad in assists with an average of 3.1 a game.
One potential problem looming on the horizon for a team with such high expectations is the recent suspension of center Kenny Frease. Coach Chris Mack said Frease “did not fulfill all the responsibilities of a Xavier basketball player.” What kind of long-term affect this has on the team remains to be seen as no timetable has been set for his return.
The biggest loss from last year was forward Jamel McLean, who was a workhorse for the Musketeers over the course of his four-year career. Last season he averaged more than 30 minutes a game while leading the team with 8.4 rebounds per game to go along with his 10.6 points average.
Also gone is guard Dante Jackson, who was the team’s fifth-leading scorer with 7.9 points per game.
This year’s freshman class consists of Jalen Reynolds, Dezmine Wells and Darwin Davis, who were all rated at 91 or higher by ESPN’s recruiting experts. Of the three, Wells could make the biggest impact this season by filling McLean’s shoes at forward.
Reynolds is a 6'9" power forward who will help bolster Xavier’s defense, and Davis is a point guard who can add some depth off the bench.
The Musketeers will also get a bonus from the return of Brad Redford, who missed last season with a torn ACL. He could be the outside shooter who puts this team over the top this season with a career 44.5 shooting percentage from beyond the arc.
Xavier Basketball Schedule
Xavier opens its season on Nov. 11 against Morgan State, and will get its first true test of the season later that month on the road against Vanderbilt on Nov. 28. It also faces Butler, Purdue, Cincinnati and Gonzaga before opening up conference play against LaSalle on Jan.4.
A successful run in this highly ambitious non-conference schedule could pay major dividends down the road as far as locking up a favorable seed for the NCAA tournament.
College Basketball: Xavier Musketeers Preview
Xavier’s name has been scattered throughout the various preseason polls, with Rivals.com ranking it 23rd and the Sporting News ranking it 18th. The Musketeers are favored by many to once again end up on top in the Atlantic 10, with the only serious competition coming from Temple.
They have been opened at plus-5,000 to win a national title, putting them in the second-tier of favorites with some of the lowest odds of any team from a mid-major conference.
Tu Holloway is the type of player who can carry a team to a title, much like Kemba Walker did last season with Connecticut. With a strong supporting cast, look for Xavier to be a solid four- or five-seed come tournament time, and the Musketeers should be well positioned to make a deep run towards a National Championship.
Doc Moseman is the owner of Doc’s Sports picks Web site.