Joel's article on Xavier's six potential starters has generated both a good deal of comment and a good deal of thought. It's no secret that having more good players than places to put them is a good issue to have but, unlike a professional team, the Musketeers can't flip a guy for depth elsewhere. Or, in the case of the Cleveland Browns, trade him for another draft pick they can waste on someone like Justin Gilbert. That leaves Coach Mack with a bit of a conundrum to solve. While starting isn't the be all-end all for playing time, it's generally the best lineup that hits the court for the opening tip. To figure out who those five are, here are three hurdles the team has to clear.
1. Who is the point guard?
This is the domino upon which several others seem to hang. It's widely assumed that Xavier will play a classic point guard this season, as well they should. That eliminates Myles Davis and Remy Abell. Both can be effective initiating the offense for short bursts, neither are a true point. This competition will come down to either Edmond Sumner or Larry Austin Jr. Right now, it seems like Sumner may have a bit of an edge. It's hardly a solved question though, because LAJ looked like the game was slowing for him near the end of last year. This could come down to whether Coach Mack favors the potential explosiveness of Sumner or the possibly steadying influence of a player who has logged some Big East minutes. This is the position battle that could well decide the fate of this Musketeers season. Nothing so dooms a team like unreliable point guard play.
2. Big or small?
Part of the beauty of Xavier's rotation is the ability to force mismatches by going either big or small. Trevon Bluiett's ability to play the four and Abell's ability to play the two or three mean Xavier can go either way with an opponent, or load a lineup and make an opponent react. With one of the two point guards penciled in, a small lineup would mean Myles at the two, Remy at the three, Trevon at the four, and a big. A big lineup could move Trevon to the two and let Xavier run with three monsters in the front court. That's not likely to start a game, but Trevon/Remy at the two and three could mean two bigs down low and no room for Myles. That lineup would give Xavier a rebounding mismatch against any opponent, just like one with Myles/Remy at the two and three and Trevon down low would leave teams scrambling to match up with the speed the Musketeers have on the floor.
No matter what happens, it's not likely that the loser of the point guard battle will move over to the two in a major lineup. While Sumner may have the raw scoring potential, he's not likely to displace Myles Davis. LAJ's strength comes in managing the offense. If he isn't at the one, a lot of his value is diminished.
In my opinion, Coach Mack would like to have both James Farr and Jalen Reynolds on the floor at the same time. The rebounding and athleticism in that combo would be a nightmare for all but the very best teams in the nation. Unfortunately, both of those guys absolutely love to hack. Having both of them out there to start a game could mean that both of them are anchored on the bench by the 17 minute mark. Is that a chance that Coach Mack is willing to take for the chance that his team dominates the paint.
I think the Musketeers would like to start Sumner, Davis, Bluiett, Farr, and Reynolds. Remy Abell would be the closest thing Xavier has seen to James Posey since the man himself left campus. Abell can defend, run, score, and shoot, while also having the energy to sustain that all for long stretches. That, plus the flexibility it would give Coach Mack, makes Abell an ideal impact weapon off the bench. That leaves the best shooter and the best scorer on the team both still in the lineup and lets the Musketeers control the glass.
I don't think that will happen, though. I expect the Musketeers general starting lineup to be Sumner, Davis, Abell, Bluiett, and Reynolds. Farr can come off the bench to either augment Reynolds if he's rolling, or replace him if he's in foul trouble. That also lets Coach Mack use his best perimeter defender immediately from the off. I do expect that the top six are not separated by much in terms of actual minutes played. No matter what lineup the Musketeers go with though, someone deserving is starting the game on the bench.