There are worse things in the world than being a "student-athlete" and Xavier basketball is again going out of the way to prove that point by taking the team to Brazil for a preseason trip. While Brazil has been the epicenter of the sports world this summer, very little of that attention was focused on basketball. That probably won't change, even with the arrival of a Big East power, but the trip to the southern hemisphere does give Xavier a chance to have a look at three key points.
The start of NFL training camp, and the interminably dull arguments about exhibition games or lengthening the regular season, highlights the fact that injuries can happen before a ball is tipped in anger. Brad Redford's ACL tear comes to mind right away for Xavier fans, but players having to play their way into shape during the season or coming back from injury is not at all an uncommon storyline. Matt Stainbrook played well against NC State in Xavier's final game last year and should experience no lingering side effects of the injury he suffered in the Big East tournament, but the fact remains that this will be the first competitive ball he's played since then. If Xavier brings back a full squad of fully fit players, the most important aspect of this trip will have been a success.
2. Making the pieces fit
Xavier's depth chart is filled with question marks at this point. Gone are star guard Semaj Christon and full time contributors Justin Martin and Isaiah Philmore. In their places come Remy Abell and six freshman in Edmond Sumner, Trevon Bluiett, JP Macura, Makinde London, Sean O'Mara, and Larry Austin Jr. Fitting all of that together into rotation that makes sense and has some chemistry will be another major focus of Coach Chris Mack and his staff. That is a lot of moving parts that have to show a good deal of cohesiveness when the season starts in November.
3. Replacing Semaj...and the others
Quick, name the player who used more Xavier possessions and played more minutes than any other over the last two years. That wasn't a trick question (or really a question at all), the answer was Semaj Christon. Christon averaged 16.2/2.8/4.4 on .462/.338/.670 shooting over his Xavier career. Those numbers are not going to be easily replaced by one player. Justin Martin, the team's second leading scorer and rebounder, and Isaiah Philmore are both gone as well. Xavier has massive amounts of talent coming in with a class that was ranked #4 by ESPN and #9 by Scout before Larry Austin Jr. was added to it.
Still, talent doesn't always turn into production. There is no question that Brandon Randolph is a tremendously talented player, but he failed to make that tell at this level last year. In order for Xavier to have success in patching over the massive holes left by the departures, the freshman and Abell are going to have to play, and play well, from the off.