With in-state rivals No. 23 Xavier and Dayton meeting for the first time since 2013, there was a lot of anticipation for Sunday’s AdvoCare Invitational title game in Orlando. But after 20 competitive minutes the Musketeers removed any doubt, blowing out the Flyers by a final score of 90-61.
The depth, talent, experience and toughness of Chris Mack’s team was on display throughout the event, most especially Sunday evening. Eight players scored at least eight points against Dayton, and as they had throughout the tournament Xavier dominated on the boards. The Musketeers grabbed 37.1 percent of its offensive rebound opportunities and limited Dayton to just four offensive rebounds, turning that into a 17-2 edge in second chance points.
Add in 27 Xavier points off of 22 Dayton turnovers, and it was clear who dictated the terms of engagement in this much-anticipated meeting.
The offensive rebounding and turnovers issues took their toll on the Flyers, who managed to keep the game close until late in the first half. But Xavier was able to stretch out the margin to eight by the intermission, and a 21-0 run pushed the margin out to 29 with just over 12 minutes remaining in the game. Dayton’s gotten off to a good start, despite not having the suspended Dyshawn Pierre, and they’re going to win a lot of games this season.
But there was a clear difference between these two teams Sunday night, with the deep Musketeers looking like one that can not only build on last season’s Sweet 16 run but exceed it.
On the season six players are averaging at least 9.7 points per game, which makes it hard for the opposition to focus its defensive efforts on one or two players. Jalen Reynolds and James Farr can take control of games in the paint. Trevon Bluiett has the ability to score from just about anywhere on the floor, and this team doesn’t lack for perimeter shooters either. Add in a redshirt freshman point guard in Edmond Sumner who’s hit the ground running in filling the role left vacant by the graduation of Dee Davis, and this is a team capable of being a factor nationally.
Xavier’s reached the Sweet 16 in five of the last eight seasons, so success is to be expected from this program. And if their start to this season is any indication, this group of Musketeers is more than capable of not only challenging Villanova atop the Big East but adding to that recent run of success.
POSTERIZED: Xavier’s Jalen Reynolds dunks on two defenders
Sunday’s AdvoCare Invitational title game between No. 23 Xavier and Dayton was the first meeting between the two in-state rivals since 2013, the year in which the Musketeers moved from the Atlantic 10 to the Big East. Of course the game was highly anticipated, and Xavier forward Jalen Reynolds made a powerful statement early in the first half.
What did he do? A rip-through and one dribble around Dayton’s Steve McElvene, then a one-handed dunk over Kendall Pollard with McElvene attempting to challenge the finish from behind.
Video credit: ESPN
Big East Preview: Is there a real challenger to Villanova?
Beginning in October and running up through November 13th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2015-2016 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.
Today, we are previewing the Big East Conference.
The Big East Conference landed six teams in the NCAA tournament last season. The Big East might not replicate that number come Selection Sunday, but the 10-league members should make for another unpredictable season.
Villanova should be the unanimous preseason pick, given what the Wildcats have accomplished over the past two years (two regular season titles and the 2015 Big East Tournament championship) and the key pieces they bring back, inclduding Ryan Arcidiacono, Daniel Ochefu and Josh Hart. Georgetown, Butler and Xavier should all pose as Villanova’s biggest competition, though the order in which they finish is up for debate.
The same could be said for the rest of the conference. St. John’s is likely out of the mix following a massive roster overhaul, but Nos. 5-9 could end up in a variety of ways.
FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW:
1. Kris Dunn spurned NBA: Kris Dunn could have been a lottery pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, but choose to return to Providence for his junior season. This is a gamble on Dunn’s part, given the recurring shoulder injury that plagued his first two seasons. But with the return of Dunn, arguably the top player in college basketball, the Friars eye an NCAA tournament for the third time in as many seasons, instead of focusing on a rebuilding year.
2. Villanova postseason cut short again: In 2014, Villanova, a No. 2 seed, was upset by eventual champion UConn in the Round 0f 32. This past March, the Wildcats validated critics who believed that they were unworthy of a No. 1 seed, exiting the tournament in the Round of 32 again, this time at the hands of No. 8 N.C. State. Jay Wright led the Wildcats to the Final Four in 2009. In five tournament appearances since, Villanova hasn’t gotten out of the first weekend. Villanova can prove its among the top programs in the country with non-conference matchups against Oklahoma and Virginia, but it won’t matter unless NCAA tournament success follows.
3. Chris Mullin returns: After five seasons, St. John’s and Steve Lavin decided to part ways. This paved the way for a Chris Mullin homecoming. The Brooklyn native led the Johnnies to the 1985 Final Four before enjoying a Hall of Fame career as a player. Since retiring, he’s worked as both a broadcaster and in NBA front office’s but he returns to his alma mater with zero coaching experience. He inherits a team that lost its entire rotation, but Mullin has made tremendous strides in his first few months as a head coach, surrounding himself with talented recruiters, who have overhauled the roster and helped land a pair of four-star recruits.
4. Impact freshmen: The two highest-rated recruits entering the league is Marquette’s Henry Ellenson and Villanova’s Jalen Brunson. Both five-star prospects are expected to make immediate impact. This summer offered a glimpse of what to expect this season, with Ellenson putting up big numbers on Marquette’s European tour and Brunson leading USA Basketball to a gold medal in the FIBA U19 World Championships in Greece. Brunson averaged 14.0 points and 5.6 assists per game, earning MVP honors.
5. NBA Draft: For the first time in Big East history (dating back to 1979, not 2013), no player was selected in the first round of the NBA Draft. In all likelihood, that will change this June, as Kris Dunn and Henry Ellenson are both projected as lottery picks.
Favorite: “I’d say Villanova. They’ve dominated our league. They’ve been the standard the last two years. They have a lot of guys back, a lot of experience, very, very good guard play. They can all shoot and drive. They’re all very good defensively, too.”
Sleeper: “I think Marquette has a chance to be a sleeper. I think Woj has done a really good job of upgrading the talent in the last year. They return just enough guys and I think he has some really good freshmen to help elevate them to the upper part of the league.”
“You obviously have to start with Kris Dunn … Ryan Arcidiacono as well. Those two guys headline our league. [Dunn] impacts the game on both ends of the floor. He’s a two-way player. He’s a phenomenal defender. At the other end, he’s just really hard to keep out of the lane. Arcidiacono stays more within himself. He can really shoot the ball, makes the right play, tough guy. He does a great job.”
“I think Arcidiacono is the best player … He’s truly a quarterback in that system. He makes average players very, very good and he pulls that team together. He’s an extension of Jay [Wright]. I’m probably a rare guy, but I think Arch is the best player.”
Most underrated player
“I think Daniel Ochefu is very undervalued. Obviously, he’s 6-foot-11, but he’s so mobile and he’s an extremely good defender around the rim and in ball-screen defense. Then he can score on the other end.”
“Roosevelt Jones. I think people talk about him, but I don’t think he gets the credit he deserves. For not being able to shoot the ball, he’s extremely talented. He understands his role. He’s one of those guys that makes a team click.”
PRESEASON BIG EAST PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Kris Dunn, Providence
Dunn is a candidate for Preseason National Player of the Year honors, so it’s no surprise that he should be the runaway selection to repeat as Big East Player of the Year after he shared the honors last season. The 6-foot-3 Dunn, in his first full season, posted posted 15.6 points, 7.5 assists, 5.5 rebounds and 2.7 steals per game as a redshirt sophomore. As opposing coaches mentioned above, he impacts the game on both ends of the floor, probably more so than anyone else in the country.
THE REST OF THE BIG EAST FIRST TEAM:
RyanArcidiacono, Villanova: The experienced lead guard who shared Big East co-Player of the Year honors with Dunn last season, anchors the conference’s top perimeter attack, which includes Josh Hart, Jalen Brunson and Phil Booth. Arcidiacono averaged 10.1 points and 3.5 assists per game and shot a career-best 37 percent from three.
Henry Ellenson, Marquette: The five-star recruit, rated No. 11 player in the class by Rivals, is the highest-rated prospect entering the Big East. The projected lottery pick will make up one of the top front courts playing alongside Luke Fischer.
Roosevelt Jones, Butler: His old-school game helped the Bulldogs turnaround the program’s first losing season in nine years. The 6-foot-4 redshirt junior, who missed the 2013-14 season due to a wrist injury, led the team in assists at 3.7 per game and added another scoring option, putting up points using his arsenal of unorthodox runners.
D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, Georgetown: The key piece on a team loaded with talented underclassmen, the 6-foot-3 Smith-Rivera did it all for the Hoyas last season. The first-team all-conference selection averaged 16.3 points, 4.2 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.6 steals per game.
FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW:
Trevon Bluiett, Xavier
Kellen Dunham, Butler
Billy Garrett Jr., DePaul
Daniel Ochefu, Villanova
Isaiah Whitehead, Seton Hall
BREAKOUT STAR: Jalen Reynolds, Xavier
There are several players that could fit this category (Georgetown’s Isaac Copleand or Providence’s Ben Bentil ), but Jalen Reynolds has the ability to put up an all-Big East caliber season for the Musketeers. The 6-foot-10 forward, who plays with the attitude that he can dunk everything, may be the most athletically gifted player in the conference. He averaged 9.9 points and 6.1 boards per game as a sophomore and had two strong showings in Xavier’s Sweet 16 run.
COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Kevin Willard, Seton Hall
In five seasons, Willard is 30-60 in conference, taking the Pirates to only one postseason appearance (2012 NIT). Willard is also coming off a season of highs and lows. The highs being back-to-back wins over Villanova and St. John’s to propel the Pirates in to the top-25 rankings. The lows: a 1-9 finish and the departures of starters Sterling Gibbs and Jaren Sina.
ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING … : Can someone make run in March?
Through the first two years of the Big East relaunch, only one team has made it past the first weekend of the NCAA tournament. That was Xavier this past March, reaching the Sweet 16 by defeating No. 11 Ole Miss and No. 14 Georgia State.
Questions of the league’s strength will continue as long as postseason struggles do.
I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT : The Gavitt Tipoff Games
Named in honor of the Big East founder, Dave Gavitt, the Big East and Big Ten will play eight games throughout the first week of the season. Kicking off slate of non-conference matchups is Georgetown traveling College Park to take on Maryland. The two teams haven’t played locally since 1993. The Terrapins host the Hoyas on Nov. 17.
FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR:
1. Villanova: The conference’s most efficient offense and defense, returns a core of last year’s team. With deep guard play and a big man in the middle, Jay Wright’s team should expect to be back to the top spot in the Big East standings.
2. Georgetown: John Thompson III will rely on up to seven freshmen and sophomores. Isaac Copeland, L.J. Peak, Paul White and Tre Campbell were all part of the rotation as freshmen. First-year big men Jessie Govan and Marcus Derrickson both had impressive outings in the Hoyas’ summer trip. The return of D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera will Georgetown as the underclassmen develop over the course of the season.
3. Butler: It seems odd: a former McDonald’s All-American needing to fill the shoes left behind by a walk-on. But that’s the position Tyler Lewis finds himself in, replacing beloved Alex Barlow. The N.C. State transfer joins the veteran perimeter of sharpshooter Kellen Dunham and wing Roosevelt Jones. Like Villanova, Butler lacks depth up front, but third-year starter Andrew Chrabascz is a solid piece to have on the interior.
4. Xavier: Trevon Blueitt and Jalen Reynolds are poised for breakout years, but the Musketeers must combat the loss of both point guards, Dee Davis and Matt Stainbrook (yes, 6-foot-10 Matt Stainbrook). That point guard duties will fall on the committee of Larry Austin Jr., Myles Davis and Edmond Sumner, a 6-foot-5 freshman who sat out last season. There is still enough talent on the roster for another NCAA tournament appearance for Chris Mack.
5. Providence: Kris Dunn’s return is what keeps the Friars in the top half of the league to begin the season, but players like Ben Bentil and Jalen Lindsey will need to take major steps forward in their sophomore seasons in order for PC to still be there in February/March.
6. Marquette: The trendy pick as the dark horse in the Big East, the Golden Eagles could be in for a big turnaround in the Wojo’s second year. Henry Ellenson and Luke Fischer make for a good tandem on the frontline, while Traci Carter and Haanif Cheatham are other freshman to watch, playing alongside Duane Wilson in the back court.
7. Seton Hall: The Pirates are a dangerous team despite a dismal end to last season. Isaiah Whitehead, Angel Delgado and Khadeen Carrington all gained valuable experience as freshmen. Seton Hall will need contributions from players like Desi Rodriguez, another sophomore, and graduate transfers Braeden Anderson and Derrick Gordon if it wants to do more than pull off a few upsets.
8. Creighton: Seven of Creighton’s 14 conference losses came by five points or less, helping contribute to a last-place finish a season ago. Transfers Maurice Watson Jr. and Cole Huff should make an immediate impact alongside cast of returnees that includes James Milliken, Toby Hegner and Geoffrey Groselle. The Bluejays certainly got better, but is it enough to climb into the middle of the pack?
9. DePaul: Although the Blue Demons are slotted second from the bottom, this could be the team to surprise many this season. They return Billy Garrett Jr., Myke Henry and Tommy Hamilton IV, three double-digit scorers from last season.
10. St. John’s: Chris Mullin has covered a lot of ground since March, but the loss of last year’s entire rotation puts the Red Storm in the cellar for Year 1.
Not all impressive dunks count on the scoreboard. Wednesday night Xavier forward Jalen Reynolds followed up a missed layup attempt by teammate Myles Davis with a quality finish over Seton Hall freshman Desi Rodriguez. Unfortunately for Reynolds and the Musketeers the basket didn’t count, as the officials ruled that Davis was fouled on his shot attempt.
Reynolds finished the game with six points and seven rebounds as the Musketeers beat the 19th-ranked Pirates 69-58 in Cincinnati.
Xavier sophomore forward Jalen Reynolds hammered home this one-handed dunk in the first half to break a 22-22 tie with UTEP.
The Miners ended up handing the Musketeers their first loss of the season with a 77-73 win in the Wooden Legacy semifinals on Friday evening in Fullerton, California. UTEP will play Washington on Sunday for the championship. Xavier will play Long Beach State in the third-place game. The Musketeers already beat the 49ers earlier this season with a 97-74 win at home on Nov. 18.
The 6-foot-9 Reynolds scored nine of Xavier’s 24 bench points while also grabbing seven boards in 26 minutes of action.
On Friday night, Xavier hosted its annual Musketeer Madness.
From the start, head coach Chris Mack once again stole the show with the help of his two daughters, Lainee and Hailee, as they rapped ‘Paul Revere’ by the Beastie Boys. Later in the evening, the dunk contest provided its share of memorable moments, as well. While sophomore forward Jalen Reynolds won the dunk contest, freshman forward Makinde London might have had the most impressive dunk on the evening.
The 6-foot-10 Montverde Academy (Florida) product juggled three basketballs before throwing one in the air and dunking the remaining two.