Tag Archives: Joe Lunardi

Xavier Basketball: 5 Storylines for the Musketeers in 2013-14

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Despite not making the NCAA tournament last season for the first time since 2005, the future looks bright for the Xavier Musketeers. The 2013-14 season will usher in Xavier’s transition to the Big East, the addition of Western Michigan transfer Matt Stainbrook to the starting lineup and the development of reigning Atlantic 10 Freshman of the Year Semaj Christon.

With head coach Chris Mack at the helm, the Muskies will look to improve upon their 17-14 record and seventh-place finish in the A-10 last season. Xavier is in its second year of rebuilding the program.

The Musketeers will rely on a lot of youth next season with five freshmen and two sophomores on scholarship. Xavier can expect a lot of competition for playing time as well as depth on the bench—something the Musketeers lacked last season—as it enters a new era in the Big East.

Semaj Christon earned Atlantic 10 Freshman of the Year honors last season.  (Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)
Semaj Christon earned Atlantic 10 Freshman of the Year honors last season.
(Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)

1. Playing in the Big East

In the midst of conference re-alignment, the Big East became a revolving door as the “Catholic 7” of Georgetown, Villanova, DePaul, Marquette, St. John’s, Providence and Seton Hall separated from the rest of their conference; the Catholic 7 then added Xavier and Butler from the Atlantic 10 in addition to Creighton from the Missouri Valley Conference to form a 10-team conference.

Despite sending five teams to the tournament last year, the A-10 has historically been regarded as a second-tier conference full of mid-majors. Xavier has achieved sustained success in the postseason that has exceeded the expectations for most mid-majors.

Xavier has 11 NCAA tournament berths in the past 13 seasons; the Musketeers have had three Sweet 16 and two Elite Eight appearances in that stretch. The Muskies will get the opportunity to take their program to the next level in the Big East.

The Big East is still one of the better basketball conferences, regardless if many fans add the qualifier “new” in front of it.

Butler has proven that it’s a program capable of making deep runs in the tournament.

Georgetown returns the majority of its roster from a Hoya team that had a 25-7 record and tied for a Big East Championship last year.

Creighton’s senior forward Doug McDermott will be one of the preseason National Player of the Year favorites after averaging more than 23 points and nearly eight rebounds per game last season.

Plus, ESPN Bracketologist Joe Lunardi projects for five Big East teams to make next season’s tournament in his first 2013-14 bracket.

The Big East Tournament will be held in Madison Square Garden, and ESPN New York reporter Kieran Darcy reported that the Big East agreed to a 12-year deal with Fox Sports.

The combination of star players, tournament-bound teams, major venues and multi-year television deals means that Xavier will have more national exposure than ever before.

2. Playing in the Battle 4 Atlantis

On Thanksgiving weekend, the Musketeers will play in the Bahamas in the Battle 4 Atlantis along with Kansas, Iowa, Tennessee, USC, Vilanova, UTEP and Wake Forest.

While the matchups have not been announced for the tournament, Xavier has the opportunity to play a potential Top Five team in Kansas, who recently added the class of 2013’s No. 1 recruit, Andrew Wiggins, and a fringe Top 25 team in Iowa, who returns its top five scorers from last year’s Hawkeye squad that lost in the NIT Championship and finished the season with a 25-13 record.

It could also face USC and the Trojans’ new head coach Andy Enfield, who led No. 15 Florida Gulf Coast to the Sweet 16 last year, and Tennessee, who CBS College Basketball Insider Gary Parrish said should be considered a Top 25 team after the announcement of Antonio Barton’s transfer from Memphis.

The Musketeers could potentially face challenging competition in the Bahamas, which would help the strength of their nonconference schedule, and the tournament can only help Xavier’s case to make the NCAA tournament in March.

Xavier has not faced a Top 10 team in its nonconference schedule since 2008, and playing multiple ranked teams in consecutive days would prepare the Muskies for the challenges that lie ahead in the Big East.

3. The Development of Semaj Christon

Xavier’s point guard won A-10 Freshman of the Year honors last season after averaging 15.2 points and more than four assists per game.

Christon suffered his share of growing pains; he turned the ball over 10 times against VCU, made just one of his nine shots before fouling out in a four-point loss to Tennessee and he was 3-of-11 from the field against Wake Forest, to name a few of his less-than-stellar performances.

However, the Cincinnati native was one of the bright spots on an inexperienced team that lost its top five scorers from the 2011-12 season. Christon led Xavier in points, assists, steals and free throws attempted last year.

His best statistical game of the season was a 20-point, seven-assist and seven-rebound effort in an overtime win against No. 16 Saint Louis as Xavier made one final push for an at-large bid to the tournament.

Xavier coach Chris Mack tweeted this spring that Christon will be one of the team’s captains as a sophomore, so he will have a larger leadership role next season.

Just as the point guard will have an opportunity to improve in the locker room, he has room to get better on the court as well. Christon made just 25 percent of his 28 three-point shots and connected on only 67 percent of his free throws. While he averaged nearly five assists per game, he turned the ball over almost four times per game.

Xavier’s success in the inaugural season of the “new” Big East starts and ends with Christon.

If he can make strides upon the promising foundation he laid in his freshman year, he could become one of the premier point guards in the country and even be in the discussion for Big East Player of the Year.

4. The Fab 5

Xavier coach Chris Mack put together an impressive five-man freshman class for next season that has flown under the radar.

Myles Davis and Jalen Reynolds were both given a grade of 92 by ESPN.

Davis and Reynolds were supposed to play last season for the Musketeers, but the NCAA denied the eligibility of both players, according to former CBS Sports college basketball writer Jeff Goodman. Goodman wrote that both players paid for their first year of school at Xavier University and could not practice with the team.

Reynolds is a 6’9″ forward who was originally a 2011 commit before he attended prep school at Brewster Academy in New Jersey for one year. He will be two years older than most freshmen.

Davis is a 6’2″ guard from Notre Dame Prep in Fitchburg, Mass.

In addition, Xavier will have Brandon Randolph, a point guard out of Inglewood, Calif. who is ranked No. 86 on ESPN’s 2013 Top 100 players list.

Kamall Richards is the fourth member of Xavier’s freshman class. The 6’6″ small forward is a 3-star recruit, according to Rivals.com.

The Musketeers’ most recent commitment was from Aleksandar Vezenkov, a 6’8″ Bulgarian forward who has experience playing on the Bulgarian junior national team and the Greek professional team Aris, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer‘s Shannon Russell.

With half of Xavier’s 2012 recruiting class, which was ranked 14th in the country by ESPN, beginning their college careers next season, in addition to the three 2013 commits, the Musketeers’ freshman class has a bright future.

5. The Impact of Transfer Players

After sitting out last season per NCAA transfer rules, Western Michigan transfer Matt Stainbrook, a junior center, will provide the Musketeers a big body in the middle. At 6’9″ and 275 pounds, Stainbrook averaged more than 11 points and nearly seven rebounds per game as a sophomore for the Broncos.

In two seasons at Western Michigan, Stainbrook registered 10 double-doubles and scored a career-high 32 points against South Dakota State as a sophomore.

The native of Bay Village, Ohio also had the chance to prove himself against some of the country’s top teams. He made seven of his eight shots against No. 19 Illinois in his freshman season in a 16-point effort. In his sophomore year, Stainbrook scored 18 points and grabbed eight rebounds against No. 5 Duke.

With the loss of Travis Taylor (11.9 points and 9.0 rebounds per game) and Jeff Robinson (6.8 points and 4.8 rebounds per game) due to graduation, Stainbrook will have the opportunity to start immediately in Xavier’s frontcourt.

Similarly to Christon, Stainbrook was selected as a team captain by his teammates for the upcoming season, so he has earned his teammates’ respect despite not playing in a Xavier uniform yet in his college career.

On May 17, Xavier added a second transfer, former Indiana guard Remy Abell, to its roster. While the sophomore will have to sit out the 2013-14 season, he will be able to practice with the Musketeers and make his teammates even better.

Abell will bring the experience of practicing with two All-Americans, Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller, to Xavier, so he has seen firsthand what it takes to play at the highest level in college basketball.

College basketball stock report for week 16

After five consecutive weeks of teams moving up to the No. 1 spot one week and then back down the next as if there was a revolving door for the top spot, Indiana has held on to the No. 1 rank for the past three weeks. Miami (FL) has continued its ascent up in the polls from No. 25, No. 14, No. 8, and No. 3 to No. 2 and 23 first place votes behind the Hoosiers.

The Big East leads all conferences with six ranked teams, followed by the Big Ten with five and Big 12 with three.

With three weeks left of regular season conference play, here is my college basketball stock report:

BUY

Michigan State Spartans-(22-4, 11-2)-Ever since losing by five on the road to No. 7 Indiana, the Spartans have rattled off five wins in a row, including a 23-point drubbing of No. 4 Michigan. Michigan State is tied for first in the Big Ten with the opportunity to have sole possession of first place with a game against No. 1 Indiana tonight in East Lansing, Mich.

Adreian Payne and Michigan State are heating up as March approaches. The Spartans are tied with No. 1 Indiana for first place in the Big Ten entering their game on Tuesday.(Image courtesy of buckey extra.dispatch.com)
Adreian Payne and Michigan State are heating up as March approaches. The Spartans are tied with No. 1 Indiana for first place in the Big Ten entering their game on Tuesday.
(Image courtesy of buckey extra.dispatch.com)

Georgetown Hoyas-(19-4, 9-3)-The Hoyas have taken advantage of Syracuse’s three losses in the Orange’s last six games; Georgetown has won seven straight games, including three against ranked Big East opponents, and is in a three-way tie for first place.

Gonzaga Bulldogs-(25-2, 12-0)-Gonzaga has won 16 of its last 17 games and the Bulldogs’ only loss in the new year was a one-point defeat at the hands of Roosevelt Jones and the Butler Bulldogs on the road. Gonzaga played and defeated the four teams remaining on its schedule by an average of nearly 13 points this season. It would be no surprise if the Bulldogs do not lose until the NCAA Tournament.

SELL

Butler Bulldogs-(21-5, 8-3)-Butler has proven that its best is very good after the Bulldogs defeated No. 1 Indiana in December. However, Butler has lost three of its past eight games. Even though the Bulldogs play in an improved A-10, they have gradually fallen from their top 10 ranking.

Michigan Wolverines-(22-4, 9-4)-There is no doubt that the Wolverines have a roster that has the ability to play in Atlanta for the Final Four but Michigan has slipped up several times lately. The Wolverines lost three of their past five games. All four of Michigan’s losses this season have come on the road and the No. 7 team in the country will have to be able to play away from Ann Arbor, Mich. in order to go deep in the tournament.

Cincinnati Bearcats-(19-7, 7-6)-Cincinnati has been ranked for most of the season but fell out of the top 25 this week after losing three of their past four games and four of seven. All of the Bearcats’ losses have been by ten points or fewer, with four of them being by less than five points, UC has struggled to emerge as one of the best teams in the Big East. Cincinnati is tied for ninth in the conference with games against Connecticut, Notre Dame and Louisville remaining on its schedule. The Bearcats were projected to be a No. 3 seed in ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi’s projected NCAA Tournament but they are falling quickly.

HOLD

Notre Dame Fighting Irish-(21-6, 9-5)-In the past two weeks, Notre Dame defeated No. 11 Louisville in five overtimes and No. 20 Pittsburgh on the road. However, the Fighting Irish also lost to No. 9 Syracuse by 16 and unranked Providence by 17. Notre Dame has a lot of potential but the team has been too inconsistent.

Marquette Golden Eagles-(18-6, 9-3)-With the exception of a loss at Green Bay in December, Marquette does not have any horrible losses this season. The Golden Eagles were routed by Florida and Louisville, two teams that have been at the top of the polls for most of the season, but they have faired well in their conference schedule. Marquette hasn’t proven that it’s a great team but has exceeded expectations in one of college basketball’s toughest conferences. With four road games and two matchups against ranked opponents remaining on their schedule, the Golden Eagles have a challenging home stretch before the Big East Tournament.

ESPN Bracketologist Joe Lunardi responds to my question about Gonzaga’s NCAA Tournament seed

The Gonzaga Bulldogs (21-2, 8-0) are ranked sixth in the country and have a half-game lead over Saint Mary’s in the West Coast Conference. However, Gonzaga has lost two of its three games against ranked opponents. The Bulldogs lost at home to No. 11 Illinois 85-74 and at No. 13 Butler 64-63 this season. Even though they have one of the best records in college basketball, most of their wins have come against unimpressive WCC teams and good but not great non-conference opponents.

This afternoon, ESPN Bracketologist Joe Lunardi held a live chat on ESPN.com at I asked him if Gonzaga’s seed can (not will) only get worse from their current two seed projection. Click here for the full live chat.

Joe Lunardi live chat

An Extremely Early 2013 Bracketology Report from ESPN’s Joe Lunardi

It is November 12. Some college basketball teams haven’t even had their season opener yet but it’s never too early for the man with the greatest job in the world, ESPN Bracketologist Joe Lunardi, to hypothesize about what next spring’s NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament will look like. Last Tuesday, he made his second bracket prediction of the year.

Joe Lunardi’s second bracket prediction of the 2012-13 season. Courtesy of http://espn.go.com/mens-college-basketball/bracketology/_/year/2013.

Immediately, the strength of the Midwest Region stood out to me. The number one overall seeded Indiana Hoosiers are the best ranked team in the region. Florida is a No. 2 seed, North Carolina State is the No. 3 seed, followed by No. 4 Arizona, No. 5 Creighton, No. 6 Baylor, No. 7 Cincinnati, No. 8 Marquette, and No. 9 Saint Louis. Indiana and North Carolina State are national championship contenders, which is why it’s surprising that Lunardi has the Wolfpack as a No. 3 seed when they are currently No. 6 in the country. From top to bottom, the region is filled with dangerous teams that could knock off a lower seeded opponent. Florida will compete with Kentucky to be the best team in the SEC this year. Arizona will be at worst a Sweet Sixteen team but has Final Four potential if it the Wildcats get the right matchups. Creighton has preseason All-American forward Doug McDermott. Even the Cincinnati Bearcats can shock the nation thanks to its pair of high-scoring guards, Sean Kilpatrick and Cashmere Wright. Five of the teams in the Midwest Region are currently ranked in the top sixteen teams in the AP Top 25.

Joe Lunardi’s Midwest Region Prediction. Courtesy of http://espn.go.com/mens-college-basketball/bracketology/_/year/2013.

The weakest region projection is by far the West Region. Ohio State is the No. 1 seed but the quality of the teams goes down in a hurry. Duke is the region’s No. 2 seed and has two future NBA Draft picks in Mason Plumlee and Seth Curry. UCLA is not nearly as intimidating now that freshman Shabazz Muhammad has been ruled ineligible for the entire season by the NCAA. UNLV and Gonzaga are not in one of the power six conferences, which means they won’t be tested nearly as much  and they may not deserve their rankings.

Joe Lunardi’s projected West Region as of November 6, 2012. Courtesy of http://espn.go.com/mens-college-basketball/bracketology/_/year/2013.

College basketball is going to pick up this week, with Kentucky and Duke playing Tuesday night. Until the next bracketology update, enjoy the start of college basketball season and stay tuned for the next edition of Sports.Eat.Sleep.Repeat.