|Tu Holloway :: Jim Owens/Icon SMI |
The biggest issue facing Xavier this season is managing expectations. After all, Xavier has won five straight A-10 regular-season titles and made the NCAA tournament 10 times in the last 11 years with four trips to the Sweet 16 and two to the Elite Eight. "There's a tradition the guys are well aware of," coach Chris Mack says. "It actually fuels their motivation over the summer to live up to the expectations. It's a healthy pressure on our veterans."
Xavier brings back a ton of talent, including A-10 Player of the Year Tu Holloway, who led the team in scoring (19.7 ppg) and the A-10 in assists (5.4 apg).
One of the few areas in which Xavier needs improvement is its three-point shooting; as a team the Musketeers shot just 32.9 percent from beyond the arc. That's why Mack is particularly excited about the return of Brad Redford, who was one of the nation's top three-point shooters as a freshman and sophomore but sat out last season due to a knee injury. The versatile and athletic Mark Lyons is the team's second leading returning scorer and assist man and could also help, while 6-4 freshman Dezmine Wells arrives with a college-ready body.
The frontcourt is held down by 7-foot senior Kenny Frease. The honorable mention All-A-10 selection was among the most improved players in the league last season, and Mack believes he can get even better.
"He has to be in great shape, more mobile and athletic and impact us around the basket," Mack says. "He's so big other teams won't be able to handle him if he's more mobile. He can be a tremendous offensive rebounder if he gets on the glass instead of laying on the other guy's back when a shot goes up."
Two 6-7 transfers are expected to make significant contributions. Travis Taylor, who spent his first two years at Monmouth, plays hard and can score around the basket or step out to medium range. Andre Walker is a post-graduate transfer from Vanderbilt who can do a little bit of everything. He isn't a big scorer, but he handles the ball well and is a terrific passer.
Mack, who signed a new contract over the summer to remain at Xavier through the 2017-18 season, feels the excitement surrounding the program. He knows expectations are high, and he embraces the infectious nature of winning.
"We are very well aware that we have a talented group of returning players and newcomers," says Mack. "We sense the excitement from our fans."
Dee Davis (G, Fr.): Will struggle to find playing time.
Justin Martin (F, Fr.): Improved dramatically during his redshirt year and is expected to push for time.
Travis Taylor (F, Jr.): A high-motor athlete expected to fill the shoes of Jamel McLean.
Andre Walker (F, GS): Versatile transfer from Vanderbilt can be a difference maker.
Dezmine Wells (G/F, Fr.): One of the top incoming freshmen in the conference.