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Looking Ahead: The Frontcourt

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Justin Martin and Matt Stainbrook anchor a deep and talented crew of bigs for the Musketeers.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

With the preview of the backcourt already complete, it's time to look ahead to what the frontcourt will have available in the coming year. Isaiah Philmore is gone and will be missed, but there is plenty of talent still out there. Justin Martin and Matt Stainbrook will be counted on heavily, but Jalen Reynolds looks ready to make the leap. Behind Reynolds comes James Farr and a host of new talent.

This year was mostly a positive one for Justin Martin. The player that Xavier fans have been anticipating since he signed more or less finally arrived, as he flashed scoring moves from a variety of angles and ranges. He also developed into a reliable on-ball defender, often taking on the opponent's best wing with his length and athleticism. To top it all off, he hits the glass on the defensive end like a much larger man.

The only quibbles with Justin are the ones that have always existed around him, and they even quieted as the season progress. He occasionally looks like his mind is on things other than basketball (his money, perhaps). He will have the occasional game where the team needs him and he will, for whatever reason, have completely disappeared. When he's present and locked in, though, he is certainly a valuable weapon for X.

Best case 2014-2015 scenario:
JMart continues the level of play he brought to the table during the conference season but is more consistent and aggressive. Opposing wing players and smaller posts are smothered out of the game by his length and he continues killing possessions with defensive boards. With the team lacking a true alpha dog guard for the first time of Justin's tenure, he steps up to demand the ball in the big moments.

Worst case 2014-2015 scenario:
The pressure to lead the team brings out Bad JMart more often than not. He is still good for his usual assortment of quality plays and the occasional scoring outburst, but the same inconsistency that has plagued his career at Xavier continues to vex the Musketeer faithful in Martin's final season.

Matt Stainbrook was everything Xavier fans hoped for and more in his first year of eligibility for X. He flashed an impressive array of post moves to get onto his preferred left hand, but he also exhibited elite passing out of the block when the situation called for it. He was a monstrous real estate rebounder, opening up room for himself and his more elevation-dependent teammates to grab boards. He also blocked shots and even made steals at above average rates.

Stainbrook has some limitations, notably his somewhat obtrusive lack of pure athleticism. He makes good use of his body, but it's never that far off the ground. He's also very left-handed, to the point where it looks almost like an accident when he scores with his right. He also occasionally over-dribbles in the post. I'll be honest, though; I like Matt Stainbrook a lot.

Best case 2014-2015 scenario:
The offense runs through Stainbrook on the post. You can dump it in to him on most possessions and trust that he will make the right decision with the basketball. His scoring touch is deft and he keeps the ball moving when the defense sags. He is able to defend the post without help on defense, and he is all over the boards on both ends. Maybe he even hits another three.

Worst case 2014-2015 scenario:
Teams are able to force Stainbrook onto his right hand too often. He can be guarded one-on-one by an athletic defender who can make him go right, which obviously keeps the defense from having to double. He can still go for 10 and 7 on a given night, but his influence on the game is diminished.

The frontcourt player with the most potential to go off is Jalen Reynolds. He came to campus accompanied by plenty of hype and, after a false start two years ago and then a slow start last year, he definitely went about proving why. From his 17 and 16 against St. John's to the end of the year, he averaged 7 and 7 on 50% shooting from the floor. He's huge, incredibly athletic, and roams the lane with bad intentions; what's not to love?

There are some things not to love. Reynolds is prone to bouts of physical violence to the point that officials sometimes call fouls on him. He can occasionally get ahead of himself in the post, and his ball security is questionable at times.

Best case 2014-2015 scenario:
I really do think the sky is the limit for Jalen this year. He can step out and hit face-up jumpers. He can dunk over most people. He is able to get to the glass at both ends. He has shown a talent for blocking shots as a help defender. He's able to make hay on the post and in the open court, and his abilities as a help defender allow perimeter defenders to be more aggressive in shutting down shooters, which I think we can all agree would be nice. His skills and production make this his last year of playing basketball for free.

Worst case 2014-2015 scenario:
Foul trouble and indiscipline hold Jalen back. He has trouble staying on the floor, and when he is out there he tries to make up for it by being spectacular. His minutes stay low, and he stays in Coach Mack's doghouse for losing his off-ball defensive positioning going for big blocks. He still makes the occasional highlight reel play, but he isn't consistent enough to be a solid link in the chain.

Speaking of inconsistency, James Farr. When he was going well, Farr was like Myles Davis with a rebounding habit. He was a threat to knock down pick-and-pop and transition threes. At 6'9" with a big wingspan and an insatiable appetite for missed shots on both ends of the floor, he was the kind of face-up 4 that had tortured Xavier for years. He rounded the thing out by being athletic enough to block and alter shots in the middle of the defense.

The second half of the year, he did almost none of that. His shooting stroke deserted him even as Isaiah Philmore and Jalen Reynolds hit their respective strides. Without a three-point shot, he was a lesser version of Xavier's other big men. Coach Mack would throw him on in the event of foul trouble or the desperate need for a three, but he was by and large an auxiliary piece down the stretch.

Best case 2014-2015 scenario:
The first half of last year.

Worst case 2014-2015 scenario:
The second half of last year.

Makinde London was a mildly interesting prospect as a guard until an eight-inch growth spurt landed him in the 6'9"-6'10" range (depending on who you ask) and on the radars of pretty much every scouting service out there. London has the ball skills of a smaller man and good shooting range, but his 7'3" wingspan makes him a viable defender in the passing lanes and on the post. At right around 200 pounds, he's going to need to put on some weight in school.

Best case 2014-2015 scenario:
A change of pace forward. London can get out and run the floor, hit some jump shots, and generally bring energy to the court between media timeouts. He'll need to be paired with a bigger-bodied forward to keep Xavier from getting worked over inside, but he gets enough game experience to get his legs under him and set the foundation for a productive career going forward.

Worst case 2014-2015 scenario:
He's just too thin to be viable for meaningful stretches of time. He gets bullied in the paint and has trouble making his strengths play. The strength and conditioning crew spends more time with him than anyone else, but this year is used getting his body ready for the next three of physical Big East play.

The opposite of Makinde London is Sean O'Mara. O'Mara is a broad, back-to-the-basket center who does most of his work below the rim. This isn't to say that O'Mara lacks athleticism; he was widely considered to be a D-1 level left tackle and never quit the football team to concentrate on hoops, but his basketball career was clearly the way forward for him. He has a refined scoring touch in the post and - at 6'9", 240 or so - is not an easy man to remove when he has found position.

Best case 2014-2015 scenario:
O'Mara spends the season glued to Matt Stainbrook, absorbing everything he can about the big man's game. With depth in the frontcourt, Coach Mack has the luxury of picking his spots to play O'Mara, and the freshman thrives in select action. A college-level strength and conditioning program takes his beastly size and hones it into a truly viable weapon, and he lays the groundwork for a great career at X.

Worst case 2014-2015 scenario:
The speed of the college game takes some catching up to. Sean gives it a game effort, but games that turn into track meets don't play to his strengths. He spends the year learning the sets and defensive rotations, but he gets Jordan Latham minutes for much of the season. Pinned to the bench behind Stainbrook, Farr, and Reynolds, this is a long year for O'Mara.

The top players in Xavier's frontcourt are probably more "sure things" than those on the perimeter, but there are more questions about the depth. Jalen Reynolds is going to be the pivotal piece; if he continues playing at the high level he is capable of, this group is going to be a wrecking crew. If he does not, there is going to be a meaningful gap in the ranks between JMart et al. at the three and Matt Stainbrook at center, to say nothing of what the plan might be in case of fatigue or foul trouble.

London and O'Mara are probably less college-ready than the incoming guards/wings, but they are both the kind of recruits who could develop into very good players and make the evaluators look bad in retrospect. For this season, though, Xavier fans are going to need to pull hard for Jalen Reynolds to continue elevating his game and James Farr to get back to the guy he was in the non-conference season last year.