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October 20, 2011

Preseason Top 32: No. 17 Xavier

STRENGTHS: Xavier returns one of the best guard duos in the country in Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons. Holloway could make a run at first-team All-America honors (he was a third-teamer last season) with his ability to impact the game all over the court and as a leader. He was second in the A-10 in scoring at 19.7 points per game, and he averaged better than 20 per game in Atlantic 10 action. Xavier runs him off screens and pick and rolls, which led to Holloway's 280 free throw attempts, tied for eighth-most in the nation. He made 235, meaning he shot 87 percent from the line. Holloway also led the A-10 in assists (5.4 per game) and averaged 5.0 rebounds and 1.4 steals. Lyons is a worthy sidekick and is a stat-sheet stuffer (averages of 13.6 points, 3.1 rebounds and 3.1 assists). Xavier will get a boost when Brad Redford is healthy. He'll provide a 3-point threat, which Xavier sorely needs. He's still working back from a torn ACL that sidelined him last season. When 7-foot Kenny Frease is on the court, he will keep opposing teams honest with his ability inside.

AT A GLANCE
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE
C Kenny Frease (7-0/269, Sr.)
F Travis Taylor (6-7/214, Jr.)
F Justin Martin (6-7/202, R-Fr.)
G Mark Lyons (6-1/195, Jr.)
G Tu Holloway (6-0/185, Sr.)
KEY RESERVES
F Jeff Robinson (6-9/219, Jr.)
F Andre Walker (6-7/220, Sr.)
G Dee Davis (5-11/150, Fr.)
G Brad Redford (6-0/175, Jr.)
G/F Dez Wells (6-4/220, Fr.)

Coach: Chris Mack (3rd season at Xavier)
Last season's record: 24-8 overall, 15-1 in Atlantic 10 (1st in league)
Postseason: Lost to Marquette in first round of NCAA tournament
Final regular-season RPI: 22nd
Last time didn't make NCAA field: 2005
[More on Xavier: Go to MusketeerScoop.com]

WEAKNESSES: Frease is the key to the frontcourt and the most experienced player there with Dante Jackson and Jamel McLean gone. He also has been suspended indefinitely for "not fulfilling team responsibilities," as coach Chris Mack put it. Xavier probably can survive without him for a time. But the questions would come in Game 5, which begins a stretch that sees the Musketeers play at Vanderbilt, Purdue, at Butler and Cincinnati. Even when Frease is in the lineup, Xavier still has questions up front. PF Jeff Robinson is the returning player in one of those spots, but he'll have to fend off Travis Taylor. Taylor is transferring from Monmouth, where he averaged 17.8 points and 7.6 rebounds as a sophomore. How will he adapt to a higher level of basketball? Vanderbilt transfer Andre Walker also is in the mix. A freshman is likely to step into the starting lineup at small forward. Both Justin Martin and Dez Wells were four-star, top-100 recruits, but Martin, who redshirted last season, has a leg up in experience because he was able to practice with the team. Wells is a true freshman who played at Chatham (Va.) Military Academy last season.

OVERVIEW: When Xavier started 8-5 last season, it appeared the Musketeers were headed for a rare down year. But Xavier went 15-1 in the Atlantic 10. The season ended on a down note as the Musketeers failed to win an NCAA tournament game for the first time since 2005, ending Xavier's run of three consecutive Sweet 16s. Early struggles would not come as a total surprise this season, either, because Mack is going to have to find the right mix with the influx of transfers and freshmen. Holloway is one of the best players in the country, so none of the new players will be asked to carry the team. Xavier, though, is too talented and too deep not to finish in the top two of the Atlantic 10, with a chance to win some games in the NCAA tournament.

David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.

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