By: Brent Raines ~Sports Editor~
When Bronson Koenig’s fall-away heave somehow found the bottom of the net on Sunday night, what was once Xavier’s most successful and promising season ended in bitter disappointment. With nothing but the Reds to hold Cincinnati sports fans until football season, we might as well take a way-too-early look at the 2016-17 Musketeers.
Next year should be promising, as the Musketeers should return most of their players and coaches from this year’s top-five team. Chris Mack is turning into college basketball’s version of Jon Gruden and will likely be mentioned for every power conference opening, but no blue-blood jobs appear to be opening up that could force him to leave.
Down the staff, it seems likely that associate head coach Travis Steele will finally get a chance to run his own program. Steele, the chief recruiter of sophomore forward Trevon Bluiett and incoming guard Quentin Goodin, is reportedly a candidate for the vacancies at Western Kentucky and Wright State.
Outside of departing seniors Remy Abell and James Farr, junior forward Jalen Reynolds might be the only member of the team’s core not returning. Even before the season started, rumors circulated that the 23-year-old might test his shot at professional basketball after this season. After the Wisconsin game, Reynolds told the Cincinnati Enquirer’s Shannon Russell that, “It’s in God’s hands,” when asked whether he’d be back next year. While things can always change, it appears that the bulk of the roster will be back.
While CBS Sports writer Jon Rothstein loved to quip that this year’s Musketeers were “deeper than the cast of ‘A Few Good Men,’” next year’s team has a shot to be even deeper.
Even if Reynolds leaves, the combination of incoming transfer RaShid Gaston, along with recruits Tyrique Jones and Eddie Ekiyor, should ensure that the frontcourt remains deep. Both Gaston and Jones are physical specimens and ought to be ready for the physicality of the Big East. Ekiyor enrolled a semester early and has practiced with the team (along with Gaston) since arriving in December. Goodin, a top-100 recruit, should give Mack something he never had this season — a reliable back-up point guard.
Chris Mack and his staff have done a phenomenal job of developing talent during his seven years at the helm, and it’s fair to expect a few gems to develop among the players on the roster. Sophomore center Sean O’Mara, freshman forward Kaiser Gates and sophomore J.P. Macura all played well in limited minutes during their first few years with the team and should have expanded roles next year. Junior guard Myles Davis is already a team leader, Bluiett was third-team All-American and freshman guard Edmond Sumner is on track to be a star.
Though current seniors won’t be around campus to enjoy it, Cintas Center ought to showcase one of the best basketball teams in America next year. Xavier and perennial Big East power Villanova should be the preseason favorites in the conference and, unlike this year, the Musketeers should also be ranked highly to begin the season. While it’s little solace after such a devastating loss, Xavier basketball should be back at full-strength in 2016-17.