Finally. 239 days after Isaiah Phimore's layup hung on the rim and then fell away, Xavier will take the court again. Last season can't be quantified as anything but a failure for a program that has become used to marching into the NCAA tournament year after year. In the 2012-13 season that all came crashing down in a miasma of overworked guards, struggling bigs, and a mostly punchless offense.
That doesn't mean it was all doom and gloom last year. Semaj Christon became more than anyone could have reasonably expected he would be as a scoring guard. Philmore, prior to those last agonizing 1.4 seconds, had a tremendous second half of the season and started to become the kind of player that every winning team needs. Dee Davis just kept playing through game after game of physical abuse and difficult defensive assignments. This year, reinforcements have arrived to bolster the squad and, hopefully, prevent another midseason free fall.
Travis Taylor is a lot to lose from a team that wasn't exactly dominant in the frontcourt last year. Taylor rebounded from a mediocre junior year to become an absolute animal in the post last year. 31 minutes, 12 points and nine rebounds is not exactly simple to replace. More than that, Taylor played with an amazing amount of energy on the glass at both ends of the floor, finishing in the top 360 in offensive rebound rate, and 43rd in defensive rebounding rate.
His fellow backcourt departures were both notably disappoint in their time at Xavier. Chris Cantino played nary a minute and is now plying his trade at Pikeville College, in the same NAIA conference where your site editors had their collegiate careers. Jeff Robinson was Jeff Robinson and then, despite all indications that wasn't working, persisted in being Jeff Robinson.
The loss of Taylor would be a concern for any team, but Xavier has countered it with an amazingly talented incoming group. Matt Stainbrook ranked 91st in offensive rebounding rate the last time he suited up (and 316th in defensive) and that was 40 pounds ago. Stainbrook also provides a good deal of offensive punch inside when he is on his game, shooting 53% from the floor (and the line) for Western Michigan in 2011.
Stainbrook is joined by the long awaited Jalen Reynolds, who is your basic 21 year old freshman. Reynolds brings the kind of athleticism that Taylor, and Jamel McLean before him, had and with that comes a penchant for the spectacular. Reynolds hasn't faced real college competition yet, so it will be interesting to see how quickly he adjusts. Still, his frame and his age should help him a good deal in avoiding the problems that average freshmen run into.
Kamall Richards is one of those slightly more average freshman. A scorer on a team that already has plenty of options, Richards is going to have to develop other skills to earn his playing time. Joining him in the scrap for playing time will be James Farr, Erik Stenger, and Justin Martin.
Stainbrook, Reynolds, and Isaiah Philmore will see the lion's share of the time to begin with. Martin now faces the prospect of having to produce if he wants to see the court. While Martin started last year well, his concussion led to a slide back to his previous form. While two guard holds the chance of some reprieve for Martin, it doesn't for Farr or Stenger. Look for this very deep group to be led by the three incoming guys and Philmore. Richards will be on the low end of the rotation, but his contributions will simply underline that this is a very talented assemblage of players. This frontcourt can play in the Big East.
Brad Redford was Xavier's most efficient offensive player (and 50th in the nation) last year and played 57% of the available minutes. That tells you a great deal both about a young man who came back from ACL repair, and the lack of depth in the backcourt for the Musketeers last year. Redford was a crowd favorite, and his shooting will be missed, but his production overall should be replaceable.
Trying to replace the outside shooting will be Myles Davis, the winner of this year's Musketeer Madness three point contest. Davis is a stout guard whose shooting ability probably won't match Redford's, but could come very close. Davis also brings a great deal more to the offense off the bounce, and could possibly see some time at the point if the need arises. Integration after a good deal of time away from the competitive game will be his biggest issue.
Brandon Randolph is nearly the antithesis of Redford. A slashing, strong guard, he'll put the ball on the floor until someone makes him stop. Randolph isn't a great shooter at this point, so teams are going to make him put the ball on the floor, and they're going to make him prove he can go left. On the other hand, if Brandon gets to run at a defense with the ball in his right hand, he's going to score. He can be that good.
This is where things get interesting for the Musketeers. The frontcourt is solid and will show flashes of the spectacular. The backcourt is very nearly the opposite. This group, which still features the nearly matchless talent of Semaj Christon, will be spectacular but could very well struggle to be solid. Dee Davis is ostensibly the levelheaded ball distributor, but his 1.3/1 assist to turnover ratio puts the lie to that. If the game speeds up and Davis x2, Christon, and Randolph can't slow down and get control, things will go south very, very fast. The frontcourt will hold up its end of the bargain, the season will rest on how well their compatriots in the backcourt do.