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Xavier's NCAA tournament magic will probably happen again

The Musketeers are No. 17 in our preseason countdown.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round-Florida State vs Xavier Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

As unpredictable as college basketball is, you could almost always count on Xavier to be a factor in March — even if the Musketeers sputter through January and February. Since Chris Mack took over in 2010, they’ve played in every NCAA Tournament except for one, and they have won 10 tournament games in that time.

That’s why it was only fitting that last season’s Musketeers, who endured a brutal losing streak in the heart of the Big East season, reached the Elite Eight.

This year, with a brutal non-conference schedule and an even better Big East, Xavier could have a few more bumps in the road ahead. That doesn’t mean it’ll be sitting it out on Selection Sunday. Another deep tournament run is a realistic goal.

Second-leading scorer Edmond Sumner and rebound enthusiast Rashid Gaston are gone, but Trevon Bluiett and J.P. Macura return. To go with them, Mack brings in the best recruiting class he’s ever had as well as a key graduate transfer.

If the newcomers and the veterans jell early, Xavier has the firepower to get on a roll and win the conference.

Projected Lineup:

G Quentin Goodin, sophomore
G Trevon Bluiett, senior
G J.P. Macura, senior
F Kerem Kanter, graduate senior
F/C Sean O’Mara, senior

Key Reserves: G Paul Scruggs (freshman), F Kaiser Gates (junior), F Naji Marshall (freshman), G Elias Harden (freshman), F Jared Ridder (freshman), F Tyrique Jones (sophomore), C Kentrevious Jones (freshman)

What happened last season?

Last year was a roller coaster for the Musketeers, but one that ended with Xavier in the Elite Eight for the first time since 2008. It was an improbable ending to a season that featured a six-game losing streak and the unexpected departure of Myles Davis, who was suspended for the first half of the season and played just three games in January. A couple of wins over DePaul in March helped right the ship and secure Xavier’s tournament bid, and the highlight of the season came in the Sweet 16 when the Musketeers knocked off two-seed Arizona in a 73-71 thriller.

Who’s the star?

The star is, without question, Bluiett. The senior flirted with the NBA after a season in which he averaged 18.5 points per game (37 percent from three) and 20.5 points during the postseason. Bluiett will likely find himself on an AP Preseason All-American team and could be preseason player of the year in the Big East — though Angel Delgado and Jalen Brunson might have something to say about it.

Why can Xavier be better than last year?

Aside from a senior-laden lineup led by the possible conference Player of the Year, Xavier is bringing in an excellent recruiting class. Consensus four-stars Scruggs and Marshall headline the class, but Harden, Ridder, and Kentrevious Jones are three-stars who will add depth. ranks the Musketeers class as the 11th-best in the country, which is the school’s highest mark since 247 began ranking classes.

Not convinced? Here’s a Scruggs mixtape to get you pumped up:

What questions still remain?

As talented and experienced as Xavier is, the Musketeers’ frontcourt picture is still murky. O’Mara is a good bet to take a starting spot, but after that, it’s harder to say. Kanter, a grad transfer from Green Bay, posted 11-and-six last year and can start alongside O’Mara. Tyrique Jones is another option if Kanter isn’t quite up to the task in the Big East. Jones had his moments last year, but was largely unremarkable, struggling to find consistent minutes.

Under the best-case scenario, he is a key piece off the bench, while the freshmen, Ridder and Kentrevious Jones, develop alongside him. Marshall is another name to look at, but he is more a wing with the size to play the post, rather than a true big. Marshall is known as a scorer and can be an asset off the bench.

Anything else?

Luke Murray, son of actor/comedian/Cubs fan Bill Murray, is still on Mack’s staff, so get ready for more of this: