I sent some questions to my friend Robert O’Neill at BigEastCoastBias.com about Xavier and he was kind enough to answer them. You can follow Rob on twitter (beware, he’s a big Cubs fan) @RobertONeill31. Here’s the Q&A for the upcoming game against the Musketteers.
Sam Snelling: Chris Mack looks to have this program on very solid ground, he's recruiting well, they're winning a lot... what has Mack done to make Xavier a more sustainable top 25 program?
Robert O’Neill: I think the biggest thing for Xavier's sustained success was the move to the Big East. If you look back historically, they've had great coaches. Pete Gillen, Skip Prosser, Thad Matta, Sean Miller, but all of them treated the job as stepping stones to get into bigger conferences. It worked for all of those guys, but Mack, an Xavier alum, seems different. He seems very happy at Xavier, and now with them being in a major conference, that solidifies everything else, including recruiting. So it might not be so much what Mack has done, but what the school has done to make him successful. It's no coincidence that Xavier's best recruiting classes in school history have come in the past few seasons.
SS: I know the saga of Myles Davis is a bit of a dark cloud hanging over the program, how has Xavier handled his being out and are there any other prime players the Musketeers are currently missing?
RO: Davis being out has caused everyone to shift down a position, if that makes sense. Trevon Bluiett went from the four to the three, JP Macura from the three to the two, and Edmond Sumner from the two to the one. It's not a huge issue for those three, because Sumner is an above average point guard and Xavier has never had much of a difference in roles from two-four. So Xavier hasn't missed Davis too much, yet. I would say the biggest loss from last year was Jalen Reynolds forgoing his senior season for the NBA Draft. Reynolds is 6'10 and hauled in 6.5 rebounds per game last season, and that size is something Xavier could use. 6'9 freshman Tyrique Jones had a big game against Buffalo, grabbing 11 rebounds, so that was certainly a welcome addition for an Xavier team that lacks experienced depth in the frontcourt.
SS: The trio of Edmond Sumner, Trevon Blueitt and JP Macura are leading Xavier in scoring, what makes this trio so difficult to defend and how should Missouri go about trying to limit their opportunities?
RO: Sumner/Bluiett/Macura have accounted for 62% of Xavier's points this season, so there hasn't really been a blueprint to stopping them. I think a big reason is the versatility of how each of the three are able to score. Each player is able to force his way through the lane and finish at the rim, while also drawing contact most of the time. Bluiett and Macura are also above-average three point shooters. Simply put, to stop them, you have to know where each one is at all times. That's not easy to do with three players. I honestly don't think Missouri has the personnel to stop them. Not that Mizzou fans should feel bad, most teams in the country lack that personnel.
SS: After a narrow win vs Lehigh, Xavier blasted a decent Buffalo team... what was the difference in the two games and how will Xavier look to be more consistent moving ahead?
RO: One of the biggest differences was that Lehigh has Tim Kempton, who might be the best non-Gonzaga mid-major player in the country, and Xavier has size issues, so Kempton was able to get easy looks inside en route to 25 points. Honestly, I thought the Buffalo game would present a bit of a challenge, too, but the Bulls couldn't hit the broad side of a barn early on, and Xavier got out to a 10-0 lead and never looked back. Interestingly enough, in terms of KenPom, Missouri is Xavier's lowest-ranked opponent of the year this season at 146 while Buffalo and Lehigh were at 113 and 121, respectively.
SS: Last, Mizzou hasn't beaten Xavier in their last two meetings. What would have to happen for the Tigers to change their luck and beat the Muskateers, can this happen and will it? Your prediction?
RO: For Mizzou to pull this one off, Sumner/Macura/Bluiett would all have to either have off games or be in foul trouble, or the early start time would have to really screw with the Musketeers. I know fans are riding high after the big win over Alabama A&M, but Xavier is juuuuust a little bit better. Give me Xavier by double-digits.