Remember when college basketball first tipped off a few weeks ago? Way back in like mid-November? Or remember the preseason when Sean ‘boldly’ put Xavier in his Top-25 (I say that because no one really had them ranked)? Well, here we are. The season is still young; conference play is still roughly a month away. But Xavier has broken into the Top-15, landing at #12 in the AP Poll. All of the sudden, they’re on everyone’s radar, especially after a dominant Advocare Invitational Tournament showing. Even Dick Vitale is impressed.
I’m trying to keep my excitement in check, because like I said- the season is still young. The meat of Xavier’s schedule is in the BIG EAST schedule. But now, I’m anticipating those matchups even more.
First, the Musketeers are a nightmare to coach and play against. They’re big, they’re athletic, they’re confident, and most importantly, they’re selfless. There’s not one player looking to dominant the stat sheet through scoring, which is funny, because almost all of them are capable of doing so. Everyone knew about Trevon Bluiett and Jalen Reynolds before the season, but the offense doesn’t just go through them. Redshirt freshman Edmond Sumner took the team by storm in his first game, scoring 19 points in a winning effort against Miami. JP Macura had a hot start to the season too, pouring in 17 and 16 points respectively in their first two games. Currently, the Muskies have five guys averaging double digit points per game, with one (senior James Farr) at 9 points per game. Other teams have to pick their poison. You can’t just zero in on one guy on this team, or else someone else is going to burn you.
I thought they started off a little slow, but I’m really happy with the play of both young point guards, Sumner and Larry Austin Jr. Sumner is going to do the sexier things for you- he’s looking to score and he can play above the rim. If there’s one critique I have of him, it’s his ability to set his teammates up. He turns the ball over more than I’d like, and there are times he’ll take shots when nothing is really there. However, if my complaint is that he’s too confident after he’s proven he’s capable, then I’ll relax. Austin Jr., on the other hand, is not looking to score. I don’t think the offense runs as smoothly with him on the floor. He gets the ball out of his hands a little too quickly for my liking. The thing is that Austin Jr. is completely capable in my eyes. But on the other side of the floor? Austin Jr. has been better defensively than I possibly could’ve asked. He’s smart and aggressive, which is still a massive help to the Musketeers.
Across the board, guys look like they’re playing better defense. I wouldn’t sit here and tell you anyone is a serious liability to the point where I cringe watching them play. While they’ve had paltry defensive performances, regardless of the final score, in a couple of games this year (games against Missouri and Northern Kentucky come to mind), overall they’re much improved this year on that end of the floor.
More and more writers are agreeing with me; Villanova is still the best team in this conference. They will be until they don’t win the BIG EAST, if that even happens. BUT, it’s not a cakewalk. It’s not an easy road for them. I mean, I’m biased, and I definitely think that Xavier is a force to be reckoned with and a legitimate contender. Don’t forget about Butler, either. Or the Kris Dunn-led Providence Friars. Or Georgetown. The BIG EAST is competitive this year, but I think Xavier is positioning themselves towards the top.