This is the latest installment in our Frontcourt Preview Week. To see the entire 2013 Season Preview or just the Backcourt Preview Week, just follow the hotlinks.
If a player makes the jump from an NCAA D-II school up to the D-I level, you might make the assumption that the lower division just couldn't handle him and he wanted the challenge of playing with the best unpaid players in the country, plus the guys John Calipari recruits. Erik Stenger did indeed make that jump, but it wasn't because he was a one-man wrecking crew at NKU. In fact, he averaged 2.1 and 1.9 as a freshman and didn't even start every game his sophomore season. Despite that, he transferred to Xavier as a preferred walk-on and - after sitting out a year - he earned 8.9 minutes per game and a half-year scholarship last season. Coach Mack chose to re-up the scholarship for Stenger's senior year, giving him a $40,000 thank you for his efforts for the Muskies.
You might wonder what exactly a guy with such a modest statistical pedigree brings to the table for a team like Xavier, and rightly so. Stenger's value, however, is not primarily in his numbers but the things he does that don't show up on the stat sheet. He was an energy guy off the bench all year for Xavier, generally crying "Havoc!" and letting slip the dogs of war every time he showed up on the floor. His hustle kept plays alive for the offense and spackled in the cracks on defense while he was out there. It wasn't all floor burns and grit for Stenger, though. He had 10 blocks, 70 rebounds (including a fairly incredible 31 offensive boards) and a shooting percentage of .523. By and large, Stenger knew his place, did all the little things he could, and managed to make the other team account for him at least a little bit on offense.
There's a reason the 6'8" forward only got 8.9 minutes per game on a thin squad, though. His scoring range on offense is fairly limited, confined mostly to plays that display his surprising athleticism and aforementioned hustle. At 207 pounds, he could be bullied on defense by bigger opponents. His performance from the free throw line was fairly abysmal - 37.5% - which isn't good for a guy who spends so much of his time putting himself in positions to be fouled. Every limitation of his that could be overthrown with effort was summarily done away with by Stenger last year. Unfortunately, that still left him with some meaningful shortcomings.
Best case scenario: I'm not going to lie: with the amount of talent in this Xavier frontcourt, something will have to go pretty wrong for Stenger to play as big a role this year as he did last year. Despite that, he still has plenty to offer to the squad. With the new hand-check rules being enforced on the perimeter, Stenger's ability to guard a wing comes into play as Xavier forwards with slow feet or who are prone to silly fouls need to be protected against slashers and face-up fours. Coach Mack's love for defense earns Stenger more than sporadic playing time, and he is able to capitalize with improved free-throw shooting and the occasional highlight reel dunk to excite the Cintas faithful.
Worst case scenario: Quite simply, Erik is overwhelmed by the flood of talent on the Xavier squad this year. Martin and Philmore prove surprisingly adequate as perimeter defenders when called upon, Jalen Reynolds provides energy and athletic ability off the bench, and Stenger becomes the odd man out of the frontcourt rotation. He gets in before the walk-ons and occasionally when there is foul trouble, but it's the 2012-2013 season he'll be telling his grandkids about.
Most likely scenario: Coach Mack values the things that Stenger brings to the table; at least initially, his style of ball has him getting 7-10 minutes per game and generally flying the court as needed. Once Reynolds and probably even Richards get settled in, though, Stenger slides further down the bench. He'll still be seen in blowouts and when there is foul trouble, but the time for him to play meaningful minutes is probably the beginning of the schedule.