Looking Ahead: Perimeter Players

Xavier's backcourt will once again look to Dee to lead the way. - Gregory Shamus

The 2013-2014 season is done and dusted, so here is our first look at what the next year might hold for Xavier. We'll start with the perimeter players.

As Brad and Bryan discussed in the season in review, last year was definitely a step in the right direction for the Musketeers. Picked to land near the bottom of the conference, Xavier instead fought off some very good teams to finish third and land a bid in the NCAA tournament. They were probably underseeded and definitely came up against a great opponent in TJ Warren and four other guys, but the program snapped its string of seasons missing the tournament at one and sent another player to the NBA. With UConn having spared the world from a UK national championship, the curtain has finally fallen on the 2013-2014 season, so now we look ahead to next year. We'll start with the guards today before progressing to the big men and the program at large before the week is out.

Before we get too far into this, make sure you're up to speed on the Season in Review series done by Brad and Bry. Here it all is for your convenience:



Dee Davis is once again the returning anchor of the backcourt. Dee continued his progression as a team leader this season, increasing his ORtg, EFG%, FT%, and assist rate while lowering his TO%, just as he has done every year since his arrival on campus. He was also the team's best off the ball defender on the perimeter, most notably harassing Butler's Kelli Dunham into two dreadful performances against Xavier. As has been his wont for his three years at Xavier, he showed his toughness by putting his body into traffic and onto the floor as frequently as anyone on the squad.

There were times this year, though, when Dee didn't look like a Big East guard. For all his graft and guile, he still had trouble with bigger guards, especially when the game was not tightly officiated. Dee's decision-making was occasionally questionable, as he has a tendency to go for the spectacular play rather than taking a more traditional approach. For all his craft around the rim, he still shot under 43% from inside the three-point line.

Best case 2014-2015 scenario:
Dee steps up as the senior leader of the team. With three years of collegiate basketball experience under his belt, he has the savvy to know when to push for the highlight-reel play and when to pull the ball out and take what the defense gives. His finishing improves as he picks his battles inside, and he can still rain in threes when given the space by the opponent. On the defensive end, he frustrates opposing shooters and harasses ballhandlers into setting up the offense too far away from the rim.

Worst case 2014-2015 scenario:
Three years of wear and tear take a toll on Dee. Like the Grady Sizemore of NCAA basketball, the only way he plays is ultimately difficult for his body to sustain. Against the physical and aggressive guards of the more meaningful teams in the Big East, he has trouble making an impact on the game. He is still able to put points and assists on the board, but neither come easy for him without Semaj there to occupy opposing defenders.

Brandon Randolph did a lot of things right, especially early on in the season. He showed incredible poise on the ball against a swarming UC defense in the Shootout and even buried a huge jumper in that game. There were flashes of preternatural quickness and court vision, and his scoring moves from just short of the rim give him real options against larger defenders. On-ball defense was not a weakness, which is a good showing for a freshman.

It kind of went off the rails as the season wore on. Randolph lacks a consistent jump shot and a reliable left hand. Over the last 7 games, he got 19 minutes. Total. His off-ball positioning as a defender was often suspect at best, and teams realized they could sag off of him without having to worry that he would burn them from outside of about six feet. Facing more crowded lanes, he forced a little bit, and turnovers rose as his assist rate fell.

Best case 2014-2015 scenario:
Randolph adds enough of a jump shot that defenders have to chest him up more aggressively in the half court. This opens up driving lanes for him to attack onto his preferred right hand, and he can get close enough to the rim to finish or collapse the defense and then kick out. His handle and confidence in the full court are an asset for a Xavier team that loves to run off of makes and misses, and he challenges for starter's minutes all season.

Worst case 2014-2015 scenario:
The jumper and the left hand don't develop, and Randolph faces the same struggles he did this year. A year in the system and in college helps him be better able to adjust, but the backcourt is crowded with talent trying to find its way onto the floor. Frustration mounts for Randolph as he once again finds his minutes dwindling at the back end of the season.

Xavier's best shooter during the first half or so of the season was Myles Davis. He came out guns blazing like the return of Brad Redford, banging home threes whenever given a chance to view the rim. When Christmas break came around, Myles was a cool 28-60 from deep. He also showed a more varied offensive game off the bounce and was a consistent performer at the free throw while most of the team was struggling.

I'm not sure what Santa brought Myles, but it didn't do him any good. From Christmas on, Davis shot 13-64 (20.3%) from behind the arc. Robbed of his most valuable asset, his playing time and general usefulness to the team slid. Not a great defender, distributor, or rebounder, Myles had trouble making an impact on the game. I don't know if it was hitting the freshman wall or the result of sitting out a year or just bad luck, but his second-half shooting slump was borderline mythic.

Best case 2014-2015 scenario:
Myles gets it back. A summer of shooting jumpers in the gym helps him purge the bad taste of his second half and he returns to campus ready pick up where he left off before the Yuletide season. He forces defenders to choose between putting a hand in his face and shoring up the middle of the floor, which opens up lanes for Xavier's slashers and one-on-one opportunities for post scorers. He likely doesn't start regularly but is Xavier's first and most dangerous option off the bench.

Worst case 2014-2015 scenario:
The shooting stroke that betrayed Myles remains inconsistent. He's too good a shooter to just disappear, but he has trouble making it show up in games. His minutes dwindle as he becomes more of a last throw of the dice, and he has trouble finding a shooting rhythm. Without the defensive chops to get on the floor while he irons things out, he spends some time getting to know the walk-ons.

Remy Abell is the first of four perimeter players who will be newly eligible to compete for the Muskies this coming season. Abell is a 6'4" shooting guard who transferred in from Indiana and has finished his mandatory sitting out. Abell is a big and strong player with good range on his jumpshot. He also has very good defensive skills.

Best case 2014-2015 scenario:
Abell starts at the shooting guard position and never gives it up. He is capable of getting baskets off the bounce as well as in the role of a spot-up shooter, and he emerges as a reliable lock-down defender to allow Dee to chase off the ball while Abell takes on the leading scorer. He helps set the tone for Xavier as a tough defensive team, which is an identity they lacked last year.

Worst case 2014-2015 scenario:
Abell is rusty after the year off and takes time to warm to the season. The same problems that led to his diminishing playing time at and eventual departure from Indiana continue, as he has trouble making enough hay on the offensive end to justify his presence on the floor. He still has the defensive chops to impose his will on that end of the floor, but his time to actually do so is limited.

Lanky combo guard Edmond Sumner from Detroit is the most obvious analog to Semaj in this class. Like Xavier's departed hero, he is a willowy (6'3", 165 or so) but explosive scorer on the perimeter. He doesn't have Semaj's raw athleticism, but his game is probably more refined at this point than Christon's. He has great handle both ways and can finish with both hands at and indeed above the rim. He needs time and space to get rid of his three-point shot, but it is an asset.

Best case 2014-2015 scenario:
Sumner comes in and plays well from the beginning. He is able to break down defenses off the dribble and finish and distribute effectively. The quickness of his first step gives him the occasional opportunity to lift from deep. As he becomes more comfortable in the college game, his athleticism and ball skills make him an offensive threat off the bench.

Worst case 2014-2015 scenario:
Sumner needs to gain weight, and until he does, he is victim of bullying on both ends of the court. He can still run and jump and handle the ball, but any game that keeps him out of the full court quickly eliminates his effectiveness. He spends far more time in the weight room than on the court.

JP Macura in a 6'5" shooting guard out of Minnesota who is an out-and-out gunner. My favorite Macura story is - and this is verifiably true - that he picked up his fourth foul in the state semifinal game on a technical for taunting. After spending a few minutes on the bench to ensure that he didn't foul out, he came back on and banged the game-winner from thirty feet out at the buzzer. When asked what he was thinking when he let the shot go, he said, "that I deserved to make it." I know I haven't told you much about Macura's game; just know that he's very good and he already knows it.

Best case 2014-2015 scenario:
Range plays right away, and Macura's is an asset from the word go. He has a knack for finding the spaces on the floor and getting rid of his shot quickly and accurately. Defenses have to adjust to him, and the floor opens up for the Musketeers' offense. His defense is still a work in progress, but his offensive abilities make him a weapon off the pine. By the end of the year, we love him and fans of the rest of the Big East already hate him.

Worst case 2014-2015 scenario:
Macura had the handle and athleticism to thrive in noted basketball hotbed Minnesota, but the Big East is a different beast altogether. Macura can still hit jumpers, but he has trouble guarding anyone or breaking down anyone off the bounce. Natural development will help JP along, but not this year.

Finally, Trevon Bluiett was a later signee but is possibly the jewel of the recruiting class. A skilled and powerful wing, Bluiett can score off the bounce, in the mid-range, and from beyond the arc. Bluiett stands 6'5" and weighs in around 200 pounds, and his body is already college-ready. It's no mystery why so many high-major teams were chasing his signature before he committed to Xavier.

Best case 2014-2015 scenario:
A less bouncy but more polished Dez Wells. Bluiett can score from all over and holds his own against physical defenders. His ability to score right away gives Xavier lineup flexibility that allows Coach Mack to go big or little at any given moment. He averages double-digits and challenges for recognition as the best freshman in the Big East.

Worst case 2014-2015 scenario:
It's not as easy at this level as it was in high school, but Bluiett still makes a way. He gets his and has the occasional game in which he goes off. The consistency isn't there as he tries to adjust to Big East basketball, but there is still plenty of evidence that he has a bright future at Xavier.

Xavier will have a variety of options in the backcourt, but there are still question marks to be found. Of the seven players I've just discussed, only Dee Davis was a consistent performer for the Musketeers last season. Myles and Randolph showed last year that they have work to do, Abell is coming off of a redshirt year, and Sumner, Macura, and Bluiett will all be trying to adjust to the game at the next level.

There is plenty of reason to hope the backcourt will be a strength though. Dee is still going to be setting the tone as a high-effort leader. Myles and Brandon Randolph are both highly talented players, and they both have skills that will play as they develop. Four of these seven players are 6'3" or taller, and both Abell and Bluiett are think enough to body just about anyone in the league. With Davis, Davis, Abell, Macura, and Bluiett all capable of being consistent three-point threats and Randolph, Sumner, Dee Davis, and Bluiett all have the ability to put the ball on the deck and create for themselves or others. These guys can be a menace in the league if things break right.

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