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2011-2012 Look Ahead

The dust has settled on the 2010-2011 season, as Brad has so eloquently recapped. With the past now behind us - which the past technically always is - it's time for our annual glimpse well into the future as we preview next season. Post-season look-aheads are tricky because there is so much that can happen between now and November that can have a serious impact on how the year develops. As always, there are concerns for next year as well as reasons to hope. To keep you from getting too high or too low, I've had the courtesy to alternate them below.

Concern: A lack of proven big men.
Somebody get this guy a meal plan.
Jamel McLean (gone) led the team in rebounding this year, and Kenny Frease was second. After him was Tu Holloway (a guard), then Dante Jackson (gone), and Mark Lyons (a guard). Sixth on the team was Jeff Robinson, at 3.1 rebounds per game. While there's nothing wrong with guards that can rebound and a big man has more responsibilities that grabbing boards, this is just illustrative of Xavier's potential question marks up front. On top of that, Robinson, incoming freshman Jalen Reynolds, and newly-eligible transfer Travis Taylor combine to average 6'8", 214 lbs. That's a lot of skinny right there.

Hope: Xavier's unproven big men may be awesome.
"Takeoff Trav" managed to average 17 and 7 at Monmouth, admittedly not against the same level of competition he'll face at Xavier. He also has a year in Xavier's system under his belt from redshirting, so he'll be up to speed from day one next season. I actually have enough film of Jalen Reynolds to put together a legit scouting report, which we'll run over the summer. Suffice it to say for now that he runs the floor really well and has the potential to be an outstanding rebounder. Jeff Robinson you know: incredibly athletic, intermittently listless. The only real bulk is the 6'8", 245 lb Jordan Latham. He didn't get much burn last year and there are already rumblings that he might transfer, but he could develop into a Jason Love-like player if he's serious about putting in the work. If two of these four guys step up next year, Xavier's big man situation should be just fine.

Tu cries here; I'll cry if he leaves.
Concern: Tu might leave...
Tu Holloway is coming off what will end up being the best statistical season of his career. Asked to carry the load from day one, he did just that, and ended the season with averages of 20-5-5 on .424/.345/.870 shooting and an A/TO of 1.58 despite being both the team's primary ball-handler and its go-to scorer. Seasons like that are difficult to put together and even harder to repeat, and I think Holloway knows that. He's going to have a lot more help and probably fewer minutes this coming year, so it follows that his numbers will dip.

Hope: ...but why would he?
Holloway is a 6' guard who doesn't have one outstanding skill beyond being able to get to and convert at the free throw line. If the career of every Duke player ever has taught you anything, you know that the whistle is a fickle mistress whose love rarely carries to the next level. Holloway's game is built on savvy, hard work, and a double dose of self-confidence; these are the attributes of a guy who needs to have a good run in the NCAA tournament to put himself on the NBA's radar (I'm looking at you, Bryce Drew, Harold "The Show" Arceneaux, and countless others). There's no reason for Tu to take off before giving himself one more opportunity to do just that.

Concern: The program lost a good spot-up shooter.
Make no mistake about it: except for that little 30-105 from behind the arc to start this year, Dante was a great spot-up shooter. Other than that stretch, his career 3P% was .376. He was also mountains of clutch and played with a serious chip on his shoulder. His penchant for clutch shooting and his ability to circle the troops and keep everyone pointed in the right direction on the floor will certainly be missed.

Your move, Redford.
Hope: The Muskies will be adding two good shooters with experience in the system.
Brad Redford will - barring any setbacks - return to the area of the floor between the three-point arcs next season, and the team will certainly enjoy his ability to space the floor and make opponents sweat. He only needs a split second to get rid of the ball, and the rush in the gym when he touches the ball within 28 feet of the bucket with any space is palpable. Justin Martin would have played last year if his transcript had been in order, but he has at least had a year to acclimate himself to the Xavier system in practice. He is a wing player with length and the ability to score the ball from anywhere on the floor, and he was highly regarding coming out of his prep time at Mountain State.

Concern: Coach Mack makes some unique strategic decisions.
It shouldn't boggle the mind that someone who spends literally his entire life working with the team comes up with different strategies than the people who spend 40 minutes 30 times a year watching them play, but his in-game decisions still bother some people (and me, on occasion). He seems reticent to switch out of the man defense sometimes, and I still wince when I see the big guys hedging over screens 35 feet from the bucket. Offensively, the big men seem to spend a lot of time setting screens 20 feet away from the basket, which drives Bobby Knight nuts (but what does he know?).

Hope: Coach Mack has a set you could bowl with.
Not hard to find a picture of Coach Mack making crazy eyes.
Whatever you think of his strategic decisions, there's no doubting the man can rally the troops. He took a team that lost its best guard, its best shooter, its best post player, and its best recruit, forged it into a seven-man rotation, and went 15-1 in conference. The exit from the NCAA tournament was disappointing, but the matchups were brutal for X. I loved his decision to send Cheek back out there with two fouls in the first half, even though it played out in the absolute worst-case scenario. It was aggressive and bold, and you don't want to get run out of the gym with one of your top five players needlessly on the bench.

Concern: X has lost some recruits.
Michael Chandler would have added some much-needed bulk to Xavier's front line, and losing him is a blow despite the myriad question marks that hang around him. Word is that D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera - a high-major quality guard - may still re-commit to X, but his decommitment (I know that fits, but it doesn't feel like a word) doesn't make the average Xavier fan very happy. Chandler has given the third verbal commitment of his high school career to UCF, but Coach Mack is continuing to pursue DSR. If he can bring him back into the fold and land another top-100 guy or two, forget I mentioned this.

Hope: The current roster fits together pretty well.
The starting guards (Tu and Cheek) can both get to the rim and shoot well enough from behind the arc not to kill the team. Cheek is the more explosive athlete, but Tu makes better decisions. Backing them up is a quicksilver penetrate-and-kick guy (Dee Davis) whose ability to get into the paint should equal more open shots for Xavier's spot-up shooters (Redford and Martin) on the perimeter. This year's top recruit is a slashing wing who can finish well with both hands and carry the ball through contact (Dez Wells). The middle is still occupied by the biggest regular in the conference (Big Kenny), and the forward spots are replete with skinny, athletic guys who can get buckets from all over (Martin), attack you on the glass (Taylor and Reynolds), and exist (Robinson). We still haven't even discussed Canty as a potential lock-down defender, Latham as a real estate big body in the middle, or McKenzie as a potential pick-and-pop four.

This, but with sixes.
Outlook: If Tu returns - which he should - Xavier will start the season as one of the best 25 teams in the nation (though probably unranked). A team that really struggled to find fresh legs off the bench this past year will suddenly be awash in more depth than any time in recent memory. The scuttlebut is that either or both of Canty and Latham may transfer out, but I'd rather see them both stay as they look to be better suited to providing tough wing defense and legitimate width in the paint (respectively) than almost anyone else on the roster. Mario Mercurio does a great job of setting up a good schedule for X, and this upcoming year figures to be no different. This team will come into the season with fewer question marks than the teams of the past couple of years and should be able to avoid the 8-5 start that has blighted the last two seasons. If everyone buys in and works hard, this could be the best Xavier team in quite some time.