There is no question the Musketeers have the best set of guards in the Atlantic 10. In fact, seniors Drew Lavender and Stanley Burrell would probably start for many of the teams in the six major conferences.
Lavender started at Oklahoma for two seasons before transferring to Xavier in 2005. After sitting out a year, the 5-foot-7 point guard enjoyed the best season of his career in 2006-07. He averaged an A-10-high 4.8 assists a game and posted a stellar 2.9-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. He also proved to be a dangerous scoring threat, racking up a career-high 31 points in a win over Charlotte and 27 more in a win over Dayton.
Xavier hopes to get another productive campaign from guard Stanley Burrell.
Burrell has been a steady scorer since his college career began. The 6-3 shooting guard has averaged double figures in scoring in each of his three seasons. With the loss of double-digit scorers Justin Doellman (13.7 ppg) and Justin Cage (10.5 ppg), he'll be expected to shoot the ball a little more.
Reserves B.J. Raymond, who added considerable muscle this offseason, and Adrion Graves will create some depth. However, neither may be the first guard off the bench. Freshman Dante Jackson, who is the No. 89 prospect in the class of 2007, received scholarship offers from Cincinnati, Michigan and Notre Dame. A pure scorer who can create off the dribble, Jackson will bring an instant lift on offense. Graves should make more of a contribution after missing most of last season with a bacterial infection.
At first glance it looks like this unit is going to regress, but that may not be the case.
C.J. Anderson, a transfer from Manhattan College, will help make up for the losses of Doellman and Cage. The Xavier coaches are expecting the 6-6 small forward to be one of the best players in the league. A slasher who does most of his damage around the basket, Anderson averaged 18.8 points and 9.4 rebounds for Manhattan in 16 games last season.
There also are high expectations for versatile 6-9 senior Josh Duncan. He has been hampered by a variety of injuries, including a sprained ankle last season. Arguably the best shooter on the team, Duncan can create mismatches when healthy. As a junior, he hit 38.1 percent (40-for-105) of his 3-point attempts and shot a team-high 88 percent (66-for-75) from the free-throw line.
More minutes for promising 6-7 sophomore Derrick Brown, who will likely move into the starting lineup, will help with rebounding. A bouncy athlete, Brown was a steady contributor off the bench last season and put together a dominating performance in the NCAA Tournament. In a first-round win over BYU, he pulled down 16 rebounds in 16 minutes.
A pair of 6-9 power forwards – sophomore Jason Love and junior college transfer Charles Bronson – are also expected to work their way into the rotation. Both are true post players.
The Musketeers will rely on a balanced attack once again, but it won't be spread quite as evenly as it was last season. In 2006, the starters averaged between 9.3 and 13.7 points per game. Much of the motion offense will be designed around Lavender getting the ball to Anderson and Burrell. The Musketeers also would like to create more scoring opportunities for Duncan since he's such an outstanding free-throw shooter.
The Musketeers lack a good shot blocker, but they should be better than average on defense again. With a similar lineup last season, they held opponents to 43.1 percent shooting, which ranked fourth in the A-10. The addition of Anderson, who can guard a variety of positions, will create some more options for fourth-year coach Sean Miller. Xavier primarily sticks to man-to-man and will mix in a handful of zones.
Outlook with postseason forecast
Don't expect much drop-off from last season, if any. Xavier is led by three experienced and talented seniors. Lavender is about as good a decision-maker as you will find in college basketball. Burrell is a proven scorer, and Duncan looks poised for the best season of his career. If Anderson is as good as advertised, Miller will have enough pieces to mold the Musketeers into an NCAA Tournament threat. The biggest key may be surviving a brutal nonconference schedule, which includes home games with Virginia, Tennessee and Creighton, a "neutral-site" matchup with Kansas State in Cincinnati, a road trip to Auburn and a possible meeting with Indiana in a Chicago tournament. The Volunteers, Jayhawks and Hoosiers are all in the Rivals.com Preseason Top 25.
Shoes to Fill
F Justin Doellman and F Justin Cage. Neither was a star, but their steady production will be tough to replicate. Each averaged between 10-13 points and five-to-six rebounds a game for the last three years.
Must Step Up
F Derrick Brown. A great dunker, Brown energized the team with his acrobatic plays as a freshman. Now, the Musketeers will be counting on him to handle some of the dirty work on the inside.
F C.J. Anderson. This transfer does a better job attacking the basket than anyone the Musketeers had last season. He was the co-MVP at the 2007 Deveroes Summer League, which includes some of the top college players in the Cincinnati area.
Rivals.com is counting down our Preseason Top 64. Coming tomorrow: No. 40.
Andrew Skwara is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.