- C.L. Brown, ESPN Staff Writer
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It’s never too early to start looking ahead to next season. Over the coming weeks, we will examine what comes next for each team in the Power 5 conferences and also those outside the Power 5 who could make noise on the national stage. Today: the Xavier Musketeers.
Xavier found itself back in the NCAA tournament Sweet 16 for the first time since 2012. It marked the third time in coach Chris Mack’s six seasons and the fifth time in the past eight seasons overall. The only other schools to accomplish that feat from 2008 until now were Syracuse, Louisville, Arizona, Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina and Wisconsin. That puts the Musketeers in some pretty elite company, and they will have a good chance to stay in that neighborhood this season.
Point guard Dee Davis and center Matt Stainbrook were the only two players of significance the Musketeers lost. They return six of their top eight from last season, including sophomore Trevon Bluiett.
The 6-foot-6 forward joined the long list of Xavier players who seemingly go from unheralded to marquee status in little time. Keep an eye out for a pair that could make that leap this season as newcomers who aren’t entirely new. They were part of Xavier’s 2014 recruiting class but made their contributions last season only in practice.
Edmond Sumner, a 6-foot-5 guard, played in six games before being sidelined the rest of the season with chronic tendinitis in both knees. It appeared his knees couldn’t keep up with his growth spurt -- he sprouted about 4 inches in the past two years. Sumner still practiced with the team with the understanding that he would seek a medical redshirt. He was ranked in the 2014 ESPN 100 at No. 78 and, now healthy, could be an invaluable addition to the Musketeers' lineup with Davis gone. Davis averaged nearly six assists per game and accounted for 37 percent of the team’s total assists.
Makinde London, a 6-10 forward, found himself in a log jam behind Stainbrook and Reynolds. Even forward Sean O'Mara, who also is in the Class of 2014 but was physically much more ready to play, leapfrogged him in the rotation. Mack is high on London’s potential as a stretch-4 in the lineup and a shot-blocker on defense. London will have a chance to show why after accepting a redshirt last season and adding about 25 pounds to his frame since arriving on campus weighing about 195.
What the immediate future holds: Xavier ranked 20th last season in adjusted offense, according to Ken Pomeroy. Mack could again have one of the most efficient offenses in the nation if he finds a point guard to run it.
Senior Remy Abell, sophomore Larry Austin Jr. and Sumner will compete for minutes at point guard. Abell might have the early edge because of his experience. He’s arguably the Musketeers' best on-ball defender, and he can keep opponents honest. Abell didn’t take many 3-pointers, but he was 41 percent from 3-point range when he did choose to shoot.
Junior guard Myles Davis primarily came off the bench last season, but he will likely step into a starting role this season. Davis averaged 10.4 points per game and led the team in made 3-pointers while shooting 38 percent from behind the arc.
Blueitt turned heads the moment he stepped on the court for the Musketeers, his 18 points in the season opener were the most for a freshman in a debut in program history. Bluiett was named to the All-Big East rookie team last season and is their leading scorer returning, at 11.0 points per game. He could be primed to take on a bigger scoring role with the departure of Stainbrook, their leading scorer and rebounder.
The frontcourt appears set with senior forward James Farr, a proverbial "glue guy" who averaged 5.3 rebounds last season, and junior forward Jalen Reynolds, the leading rebounder returning at 6.1 per game. Reynolds started only three games last season and averaged 20 minutes per game, but his limited time was due in part to constantly being in foul trouble. If he can stay on the floor, he’ll be a factor on both ends, as he also led the team with 36 blocks.
Because of a six-member 2014 class, Mack signed only freshman forward Kaiser Gates. He’ll add to the Musketeers’ depth, which could allow them to have as many as 10 regular contributors in the rotation.