Sports

Rothstein Files: Mack, Xavier Off To Strong Start In Atlantic 10

(credit: Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

(credit: Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

By Jon Rothstein
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The preseason prognostications came and went in the Atlantic 10 without the conference’s most fabled program receiving any attention.

Pundits raved about the league’s additions of VCU and Butler while simultaneously highlighting the programs at Saint Joseph’s, Saint Louis, and UMass.

And yet Xavier, the school that’s dominated the Atlantic 10 for the past few seasons, rarely came up on anyone’s radar as a legitimate contender.

But if the first two weeks of league play are any indication, the Musketeers will still have a major say in how the final Atlantic 10 standings turn out.

After four conference games, Xavier is a perfect 4-0 after losing the final four games of their non-conference schedule. The Musketeers are 11-6 overall.

“We were picked really low in the preseason primarily because we had five new starters,” Xavier coach Chris Mack said recently. “I think the thing people forgot is we still had good players in our program. They just hadn’t proven things yet on the floor.”

The cast of characters for this group is drastically different than the team we saw reach the Sweet 16 last March.

The Musketeers have a solid one-two punch in freshman point guard Semaj Christon and senior forward Travis Taylor. Meanwhile, Brad Redford has excelled as a three-point specialist. Through four league games, the senior guard has already knocked down 18 three-point shots and is shooting 46.6% from deep on the season.

“Everyone on the team has really embraced their roles,” Mack said. “Travis (Taylor) has given us a presence inside and that’s going to be important moving forward.”

The 6-8 Taylor has anchored the paint while Christon has held the baton on the perimeter. The 6-3 guard is leading Xavier in scoring as well as assists.

“The biggest thing that surprises me about him is how high his ceiling is,” Mack said of Christon, whose averaging 14.1 points and 5.1 assists per game. “He’s going to be a really special player.”

The slate will only get tougher for this team this week. The Musketeers travel to upstart Charlotte on Wednesday before heading to Philadelphia to take on talented Saint Joseph’s on Saturday.

Mack said that if the Musketeers hope to keep pace with the elite teams in the Atlantic 10 they’re going to need regular production from their veterans, especially Justin Martin and Jeff Robinson.

“Those two guys have to be consistent for us,” Mack said of Martin and Robinson. “We knew early on that if we defended and rebounded we’d give ourselves a chance to win each and every night. That’s what we’ve done up to this point and that’s what we need to keep doing.”

Which team is your pick to take the Atlantic 10? Be heard in the comments!