In many ways the 2010--11 season was a vintage Xavier performance: an Atlantic 10 regular-season championship, a top 20 national ranking, a No. 6 seed in the NCAA tournament. But before another signature postseason run could begin, the Musketeers lost to Marquette on the opening Friday of the Big Dance. That game capped an uncharacteristic showing against high-profile opponents, which included losses to Gonzaga, Florida and Cincinnati during the regular season. "That's what makes Xavier Xavier," says point guard Tu Holloway, "beating those big-time schools."
This year the Musketeers have scheduled another gantlet of résumé-building opportunities, meeting the Zags and the Bearcats, plus Butler, Vanderbilt, Purdue and Memphis. The difference is, they now have the experience to avoid last season's disappointments. Holloway, a do-it-all accolade magnet (A-10 player of the year, all-conference defensive team and third-team All-America in 2010--11), declined an invitation to try out for USA Basketball's World University Games team this summer in order to remain on campus with his teammates, running in the sand on outdoor volleyball courts and putting in extra time with Xavier's strength coach. Two other starters—junior guard Mark Lyons, a versatile scorer, and senior Kenny Frease, a 7-foot, 275-pound center who was suspended for 10 days in October for failing to meet player obligations—are also back. Holloway says Frease is so talented that "whether he works or not, he's gonna average 10 or 11 points and six or seven rebounds, but with him developing now, I can see Kenny averaging 14 and 10."
The Musketeers have also added a bevy of talent to that trio. Junior guard Brad Redford (44.5% from beyond the arc for his career) is back after missing all of last season with a left ACL injury. Two preseason A-10 all-rookie picks (Dezmine Wells and Justin Martin) will fight for minutes at the three, and a pair of transfers—high-motor Travis Taylor (Monmouth) and lockdown defender Andre Walker (Vanderbilt)—will see significant minutes in the power forward spot. "It's open season," coach Chris Mack says of the position battles. "It's nice to have options."
Those options should keep Mack's team dancing well into March—a very Xavier place to be.
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE
COACH Chris Mack (3rd season)
2010--11 RECORD 24--8 ATLANTIC 10 15--1 (1st)
NCAA TOURNAMENT Round of 64
*High school stats
‚Ä†2009--10 stats at Monmouth
‚Ç¨2010--11 stats at Vanderbilt
NUMBER OF TEAMS that finished in the Top 25 in each of the last four years and reached the NCAA tournament's Sweet 16 in three of the last four seasons: Duke, Kansas and Xavier.
A newly inspired Kenny Frease helps future lottery pick Tu Holloway push Xavier well into the NCAA tournament's second weekend—or beyond.
The Muskies struggle during their brutal nonconference slate, the hangover carries into A-10 play, and they end up on the bubble come March.
DAVID E. KLUTHO
TU HOLLOWAY The senior guard turned down an opportunity for international experience in favor of training with his team on campus.