If you have been watching Xavier during the Coach Mack era at all, you know that the ball screen has been a huge part of the Musketeers' offense, often to the apparent exclusion of an understanding of other ways to score. This offense places a huge amount of responsibility on two players - the ballhandler and the man setting the screen.
The ballhandler - almost always the point guard for X - has the responsibility of reading the screen, getting his man to it, and then making the decision of what to do next depending on the defense's response. Tu Holloway excelled at making decisions off the screen. His patient dribble-driving was likened to "a man searching for the light switch in a dark room" by the incomparable Joe Sunderman, he had the ability to get to the rim and score or drop a staggering array of pull-up moves, and he added three-point range as his career went on. He could also drop the ball off to the bigs or find the open man on the perimeter, leaving defenses with a host of options to try to account for.
Filling his shoes will be returning point guard Dee Davis and incoming five-star recruit Semaj Christon. Davis is an old-school ball distributor. He is quick and low on the dribble and can penetrate defenses, but is more adept at drawing and dishing than finding his way to the two points himself. Semaj Christon, on the other hand, represents the newer style of point guard who is willing to identify himself as the player who gives his team the best chance of scoring on that possession. It has been a long time since Xavier had a point guard who could come off a screen at the top of the key and end up dunking in traffic, but highlight clips of Christon indicate he can do just that.
Setting the screens last year was human battleship Kenny Frease. Though the wisdom of having the largest man on the floor setting a pick 25 feet from the bucket was sometimes question, there's no doubt that Frease left a sizable obstacle for the ball defender to navigate. His mobility wasn't ideal for rolling to the bucket, but the space he left often allowed Holloway to do his thing on the drive.
In his place this year will be the returning and somewhat interchangeable duo of Jeff Robinson and Travis Taylor. Both of these players have the ability to roll quickly from the pick to the rim, but often frustrated Xavier fans with their inconsistent play (Robinson) or ability to miss seemingly easy buckets (Taylor). Newly-eligible forward Isaiah Philmore practiced with the team all of last season and will also represent a familiar option on the high screen
Incoming freshman Jalen Reynolds and James Farr add another wrinkle to the high screen dynamic for Xavier. Both are long and lanky players, but they also have the ability to knock down open jumpers in a pick-and-pop situation, something that Xavier lacked last year. Both have the athleticism to finish inside, but Reynolds especially has the strength to finish plays at the rim in traffic.
Much has changed for Xavier since the final buzzer last year, but don't look for Mack to have overhauled his offensive system too much. Davis at the point and Taylor/Robinson/Philmore on the screen will represent the most veteran options for X at the beginning of the year, but Christon and Reynolds/Farr have the talent to start picking up big minutes as the become acclimated to the NCAA level. Most importantly, the Muskies have a diverse bunch of talent that will allow for several different looks off the bread and butter set of their offense.