In preparation for the start of the 2011-2012 regular season on November 7, we’re running a series here on Busting Brackets where we talk with other writers about their team or conference. You can check out all of the pieces in our preview series by clicking here. Our series rolls along with an interesting discussion with Brad Dobney of Banners on the Parkway, who talks about the high expectations for the Xavier Musketeers this season.
BustingBrackets.com: Chris Mack had great teams his first two years at the helm. But is this his most talented from top bottom thus far?
Brad: Almost without question. Jordan Crawford remains the top talent that Mack had, but this team is very close to being loaded. Tu Holloway returns, and now he has even more weapons around him. Justin Martin, Dez Wells, Andre Walker, and Travis Taylor are all top tier talent and they will have to find a way to fit in around Mark Lyons and Kenny Frease when he comes back from suspension.
While the Jordan Crawford-led squad of 2009-2010 also featured Holloway, Lyons, and the underrated Jason Love inside, this team features as much latent potential as any team since Xavier had seven major contributors suiting up for the Elite Eight squad in 2007.
BB: In your mind, is this a Preseason Top 10 team?
Brad: I actually just wrote today about how little credence you can really lend to a preseason poll. Look at last year and you can see Kansas State drop from #3 in the preseason to completely off the map. Michigan State pulled off much the same trick, while San Diego State came from not even receiving a vote at the start of the year, to 11th by the end of the tournament. Still, the preseason poll can lend some support to claims that a team will be good. Xavier is 15th this year, and I don’t see a whole lot to argue with that. Sliding in under that Top 10 can be a real blessing.
Coach Mack’s teams have come out of the gate 8-5 both seasons he’s been at the helm before turning it on in the second half. For a squad with a lot of new and talented players going up against a very tough schedule, perhaps under the radar is the best place for X to be.
BB: Speaking of Mack, I honestly believe that the guy is one of the best coaches in the entire country. What is it about him that’s made him so successful at Xavier?
Brad: When we interviewed Mario Mercurio, the Director of Basketball Administration at Xavier, the conversation inevitably drifted to Coach Mack. Xavier has a history of great coaches: Pete Gillen, Skip Prosser, Thad Matta, and Sean Miller all did a tremendous job in steering this program toward what it is now. Gillen and Prosser were both Xavier guys. Their love for the school and the program was palpable and Musketeer fans thought we had that again in both Matta and Miller, but both of them moved on quickly. With that background, Coach Mack was the perfect guy to step in. He played here, he learned coaching here, he scheduled here, he’s a Xavier guy. Add to that his very obvious energy, his youth, and his connection to the fans (Mercurio said “Coach Mack and I are the biggest fans the program has”) and you have someone who can sell to both recruits and the fanbase. Plus, his Twitter feed @CoachChrisMack is hilarious.
BB: Reigning A-10 Player of the Year, Tu Holloway, is expected to be the man once again this season for the Musketeers at point guard. Everyone knows that. But talk a little about the man beside him, shooting guard Mark Lyons, who might be flying a little under the radar on a national scale.
Brad: About halfway through the season last year, Mark’s game really began to hit another level. We did a profile on him that showed how he was making better decisions with the ball, choosing his scoring chances more wisely, and all-in-all making each possession he used worth more to the team than it was in his first season and a half. His numbers from after the Cincinnati loss really show that he has the potential to be an elite guard at the NCAA D-1 level. His growth curve is very similar to that of Tu Holloway. Lyons had some rough stretches early on, but he plays with such swagger that he’s never down for long. Like Holloway, he may have to adjust to having more help around him than he did last year. If he can settle into that, though, look for him to put up consistently good numbers and carry the team for some stretches.
BB: Also joining the mix this year are a couple of fantastic recruits in Dee Davis and Dezmine Wells. Do you expect them to make a significant impact this season?
Brad: That’s going to depend a great deal on how the starting lineup shakes out. Dez Wells athleticism and frame can play right now. If he adjusts to the speed of the game and sorts out his shot, the three spot is his for the taking. Jeff Robinson is the erstwhile starter, but he’s really riding his luck now. If Coach Mack likes Taylor/Walker at the four, Wells plays, and makes an impact, right away. If Xavier goes big and Walker moves to the three, Wells will have work a bit more. Dee Davis is a bit of a different story. He’s gifted, but he’s also small. I’m not sure any Xavier four star recruit has ever had so much talent in front of him. Holloway, Lyons, Martin, and three point specialist Brad Redford will all be taking time at the guard spots. Davis’ role may be limited, but so was Tu Holloway’s his first year. Fans just need to be patient.
BB: In terms of the Atlantic 10 race, Xavier is the clear-cut favorite at the top. Do you see anyone other than Temple posing as a serious threat to their A-10 title hopes?
Brad: The Atlantic 10 has some very interesting teams in it. Beside Temple, who you’ve mentioned, there are a couple of other squads capable of being in the discussion come March. Richmond has some holes to fill, but they just inked Chris Mooney to a ten-year extension and appear to be on the way to being a perennial contender. St Louis had one of the youngest teams in the nation last year, and Rick Majerus still knows how to coach basketball. Kwamain Mitchell might be a player to watch in the least Atlantic of the A-10 teams. Duquesne started out hot before fading last year, and Dayton could be back in the mix after finally slipping free of Brian Gregory. For this year, though, it will be a disappointing surprise if anyone other than X wins the league.
BB: Let’s wrap it up with a prediction. How far do the Musketeers go in March? Is a Final Four appearance on the horizon?
Brad: With all the usual caveats about draw and the random nature of a tournament, Xavier’s Final Four odds come down to the team concept. Talent wins games, and cohesive talent wins championships. If this team gets a couple guys to set aside shots for the greater good, the way Dante Jackson, Stanley Burrell, and BJ Raymond all did, they will go a very long way. Maybe for the first time in Xavier history, talking about the Final Four doesn’t seem absurd before the first ball is tossed.