This week Jon Rothstein has been spending a good deal of time on the Xavier Musketeers. Apparently in spending a great deal of time with the team, Rothstein has come to the conclusion that Xavier has a chance to be competitive this year. I’m already on record as saying that I see this as a down year, but the national man is cautiously optimistic about the team on Victory Parkway in the upcoming season.
To sell his point, Rothstein listed five reasons that Xavier will be better than people think this year. Those reasons: looks can be deceiving, young guns, Farr’s distance, magic Martin, and Isaiah the Bull not only came with nifty little names but also a paragraph or two explaining them. Rothstein is convincing and lucid, but not all five of his points hold water.
Looks Can Be Deceiving- Jon Rothstein starts by pointing out that there is still a lot of talent on the roster. That point can’t be debated, Brad Redford is still an elite shooter, Dee Davis is an absolutely ferocious defender, and Semaj Christon is the best freshman since Dez Wells. While that may be a bit of a throwaway joke, Christon is a great player. This team also has some unrealized talent in Jeff Robinson, Justin Martin (more on him later), and Travis Taylor.
All that said, the talent isn’t able to paper over all the cracks. 1. The top level talent is still good, but the depth is not. Quick, name the second guy off the bench for the Musketeers this year. No matter who you named, it’s a grim situation. Coach Mack is on record as saying he’s trying to get his team as fit as he can, but guys still need rest. 2. Even the starters have holes. Dee Davis is a great defender, but his height and shooting are going to limit him. If he can knock down the outside shot, it changes the complexion of the season. If he shoots 34% from the floor and 29% from deep again though, this team has issues. Brad Redford still needs to show he can defend anyone and that he can create his own shot, and someone has to step up down low.
Verdict: There is talent here, but it comes with some reservations. Truly good teams don’t have to make that caveat.
Young Guns- Again, Dee Davis is a major key. Remember Tu Holloway? In his first season he shot 35% from the floor and 32% from deep. (Holloway also shot 78% from the line to Davis 50%). The precedent is there for a young Xavier guard to make a major jump in his second year. If Dee Davis makes that same jump, this team is suddenly an entirely different entity. Assuming Semaj Christon is all he’s cracked up to be, and there is no reason to believe he isn’t, the backcourt is in very, very capable hands and Brad Redford doesn’t have to do much more than what he is suited to do.
Verdict: The reason that Tu Holloway was so special was that he made that massive jump his sophomore year, and then another one the next year. Does Dee Davis have that in him? I don’t know, but if he does it means Xavier has struck absolute gold on consecutive point men.
Farr’s Distance- Rothstein is absolutely correct in saying that Farr is going to get time, if only because Xavier has to have five players on the floor at all times. Farr is the kind of stretch four that devastated Xavier last year. He’s just as skinny as the rest of the Xavier post men, but he can get outside and use his length and lack of bulk to do some damage. Unfortunately, that lack of size also hurts him on defense, where post ups and ball screens are going to give him some issues.
What Rothstein may not know and what makes Farr a very intriguing addition is that Coach Mack has been yearning for a stretch four for years. Countless Xavier fans gritted countless teeth over the Kenny Frease area as the massive man from Massillon stood outside and set screens before lumbering back to the basket. James Farr still has the size to set that screen, but his shooting and athleticism add a facet that this offense has not had previously.
Verdict: A big year from James Farr is an absolute necessity if the Musketeers are going to compete this year. Jeff Robinson adds nothing on offense, or defense, and Isaiah Philmore isn’t going to step outside and stretch a defense. Farr is a very, very good reason to be optimistic about this team.
Magic Martin?- Martin was recruited as a combo guard with the length and outside shooting ability to terrorize defenses. In the year he sat he was touted as occasionally being the best player on the team during practices. Last year Martin failed to deliver on even one ounce of that promise, averaging only 11.8 mostly ineffective minutes per game. Supposedly a defense stretching shooter, Martin instead made a paltry 31.7% of his three point attempts.
If Xavier is going to be anything this year, Martin cannot continue to coast through games. Last year there were large percentages of time where Martin seemed more than willing to stand around and hope Mark Lyons or Tu Holloway made something happen. Lyons and Holloway are gone this year, and whatever security blanket Dez Wells would have provided on the wing is also gone.
Verdict: Rothstein is right, if Martin averages near double figures this team gets a big boost. It’s really difficult, though, to see how that happens.
Isaiah the Bull- Evidently Isaiah Philmore’s knee isn’t presenting a major issue for him right now. The forward from Towson is, without a doubt, a physical specimen. Even better, he seems to enjoy using his body as some sort of weapon. Assuming he avoids foul trouble, Philmore gives Xavier the banger that they don’t have down low. Rothstein tabs Philmore as a good bet to give any opponent’s best low post man some issues.
That’s all well and good, but just being big and tough isn’t enough to be a good basketball player. Philmore averaged 15/7/1 at Towson and managed to shoot 35% from deep to go with his 49% mark overall. If Travis Taylor taught us anything though, it’s that numbers piled up at small schools don’t always translate (and that layups are apparently harder than they look).
Verdict: Philmore could very well be a beast, but it remains to be seen how that translates when playing the level of opposition that Xavier has scheduled this year.
Final verdict: Jon Rothstein brings a level of optimism to Xavier’s season that is a bit refreshing to read. In some ways he’s right, if Davis makes the jump, if Semaj Christon is ready from the off, if James Farr is a legitimate stretch four, and if Isaiah Philmore’s game and body translate up a level, this team could very well surprise some people.
That’s just an awful lot of ifs.