Photo courtesy of YouTube | Xavier men’s basketball head coach Chris Mack, now in his ninth year, spoke at length about his basketball team for the upcoming season. He cited “togetherness” as one major key to success for Xavier this year.
Elite Eight. Those words seem to roll off the tongue naturally for the Xavier Musketeers. Last year, a season that might have gone by the wayside was salvaged by an incredible hot streak to send Xavier to the Elite Eight. This season, fans can expect much of the same as the Musketeers have a star-studded cast in their arsenal to contend with the nation’s best.
The annual basketball media day was the first glimpse into what many hope to be a promising season. Ninth year head coach Chris Mack and players spoke to the media about the buzz surrounding the upcoming season.
Mack and his players seemed relaxed, experienced and focused—all qualities you like to see in a team that has all the potential in the world if it can gel together.
This year’s personnel give this team a bit of a different feel, perhaps with more lineup versatility than last year. Mack, who commonly uses a guard-heavy lineup with one true big, stated that the team could go with a bigger lineup or a smaller lineup at any given time.
He also emphasized that the Musketeers must continue to play as a cohesive unit because “togetherness is paramount.”
One returner who will undoubtedly have a major impact on the preseason ranked No. 17 Musketeers this season is senior guard Trevon Bluiett. He has already collected several preseason accolades including spots on the ESPN All-America Third Team and the watch list for National Player of the Year.
Mack pointed out that everyone knows Bluiett is a prolific scorer, and he commended his senior, saying that he has made improvements in the offseason on other aspects of the game outside of shooting such as the pick-and-roll.
Bluiett’s return to the team was up in the air after Xavier fell to Gonzaga in the Elite Eight. He was assertive in saying that his return to the team was fueled with the drive to do something no Xavier team has ever done before, such as winning a National Championship.
He pointed to his own keys for success for this year’s team, using the phrase “attack and finish.”
Another key player that Mack’s team returns is senior J.P. Macura. His gritty, all-out style of play makes him an exciting player to watch on the court. Mack spoke of Macura’s leadership remarking that he also had a phenomenal summer and is a player who plays to win with a chip on his shoulder.
Bluiett chimed in about his teammate, asserting that he has assumed a leadership role in telling people where to be and what to do on the floor.
Xavier returns yet another senior in forward Sean O’Mara, who performed particularly well near the back end of last season. Mack took notice of the great shape that O’Mara is in and said confidence and consistency will be key for him coming off a strong postseason. Mack made the assessment that O’Mara will be successful this season, provided he doesn’t get into early foul trouble. This seemed to be a problem not only with O’Mara but with all of the forwards last season.
The Musketeers have a new face at their disposal—Kerem Kanter, a graduate transfer from Turkey who originally played at Wisconsin Green-Bay. Mack noted that Kanter’s game is different than most big men, stating that he adds something different being able to step out past the three-point line: the “euro style of basketball.”
Kanter said he feels comfortable at Xavier and believes he has good players around him. He maintained that he has been working on his overall game as well. O’Mara spoke about Kanter, saying that his arrival has allowed him to aid in personal development.
O’Mara also remarked that Kanter is multifaceted, which is a plus for the team because he has the ability to space out the floor on offense.
Mack asserted that having experienced seniors is instrumental to the success of the team.
He has noticed that his seniors have taken on what he called a “regenerative leadership” role, which was described as having the older players assume a role in coaching the younger players.
Xavier has a star in the making in sophomore Quentin Goodin, who took over as the team’s primary point guard after Edmond Sumner suffered a season-ending injury.
Mack stated that Goodin’s experience last year allowed him to “grow into a voice as a point guard” and that was “huge for his development.” One of his strengths is being an explosive rim-attacker and Mack believes he has become a better finisher at the rim.
The Musketeers, although experienced and talented, have a tall task ahead of them. The Big East remains one of college basketball’s toughest conferences.
Mack attributes the toughness of the schedule to the fact that the league has stayed old in the sense that there aren’t a lot of one-and-dones that some other programs have. Nonetheless, Mack sees this as positive because it makes the league a whole more competitive.
The Musketeers are yet again one of the nation’s top teams, and the sheer excitement is brewing as the Xavier faithful prepare for another successful season.
By: Luke Feliciano ~Sports Editor~