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Bhullar's Departure and Xavier's Future

Sim Bhullar, I'm sure you read with alarm this morning, has taken off to less green pastures. If he had backed out and split for a perennial powerhouse like UNC or UK, or turned tail to join a local rival like UD or UC, the Xavier blogosphere would be awash in bitterness and vitriol. Instead, he left to join New Mexico State - a program that has made the tournament twice since 2003 and finished last season with a record below .500. This is a move that, frankly, inspires little more than distaste and confusion at first glance.

Bhullar's sister has been quoted as saying that this move had more to do with Sim's being a Canadian and some of the "unique clearinghouse issues" that he will have to face to become academically eligible for NCAA competition. Bhullar himself has said that not being the only Canadian on the roster - New Mexico State currently has three players from Ontario and one from Quebec - will make the transition to college life easier for him. New Mexico State Assistant Coach Paul Wear is also a native of Toronto. Bhullar will become the fourth 6'10"+ player on the Aggies' roster.

Closer to home, this impacts the Xavier picture more way than just losing a literally huge recruit. X still has an open scholarship on this year's team; there were rumors that Bhullar would be brought in for a redshirt year to fill that hole, but those are obviously not in play now. It also leaves Xavier within the scholarship limit for next season; Coach Mack and the staff had previously oversigned by one (assuming the rest of the verbal commitments stay faithful). With Semaj Christon having been brought in before word of Bhullar's decommitment surfaced - and no obvious transfer candidates on the roster - one has to wonder if perhaps Coach Mack knew this was on the way.

Most interestingly, this may signal a sea change in the on-court product at Xavier. Stretching back through the David West days and beyond, Xavier has - as most schools do - always had at least one back-to-the-basket interior player on the roster. While some (West, Brian Thornton) were better than others (Anthony Myles, Brandon Cole), the post player has been a staple of Xavier's diet.

We may be getting an indication that Coach Mack doesn't roll that way. While he inherited Jason Love and Big Kenny from Sean Miller, the only wide body he brought in of his own volition spent one year on the pine and then transferred out. In the meantime, Xavier continued to spend more time emphasising offensive sets that pulled the bigs away from the basket and freed the guards up to play with more creativity. While some of this is due to the nature of the roster (have to get Tu and Jordan Crawford their touches), some of it may well have been evidence of Coach Mack's coaching philosophy.

If you look at the projected 2012-2013 roster, there's not a broad, interior player to be found. Mark Lyons and Dee Davis figure to share ball-handling duty, with Semaj Christon pushing for time as a freshman. Brad Redford and Myles Davis are pure shooters. Justin Martin and Dez Wells will provide scoring from the wings. Once you get farther inside, players are either too short (Travis Taylor, Isaiah Philmore), too thin (Jeff Robinson, Jalen Reynolds), or too perimeter-oriented (James Farr, Griffin McKenzie) to fill the traditional five position that Big Kenny does.

As we discussed in an earlier write-up, this isn't necessarily a bad thing. Chris Mack plays a pretty open offense, and having athletic, skilled bigs that can keep up isn't the worst thing in the world. The game in general is shifting towards a leaner style of big man and more emphasis on guard play, so it's quite possible that Bhullar's departure is but a footnote to a footnote in Xavier history. That's all idle projection into a very cloudy future, though. For now, all we know is that Sim joins Michael Chandler and DSR as Top 100 players who once thought Xavier would be their college destination before - for whatever reason - pursuing a career elsewhere.