College basketball preview: Xavier much deeper heading into Big East

CINCINNATI (AP) -- Big East banners have replaced the Atlantic 10 ones hanging from a back wall of the Cintas Center, marking Xavier's change to a new league.

After a rough final year in the old one, the Musketeers are moving on with a much deeper and more experienced roster.

Much higher expectations, too.

RELATED: Xavier's 2013-14 schedule

RELATED: Musketeer roster for the 2013-14 season

The Musketeers went 17-14 in their final A-10 season, struggling just to get through it with a roster so limited that it was tough to practice. Point guard Dee Davis was sidelined by a wrist injury and a concussion, putting pressure on freshman shooting guard Semaj Christon to do a little bit of everything.

Christon averaged a team-high 15.2 points even though every defense tried to take advantage of him.

"It was difficult," Christon said, after practicing beneath those Big East banners this week. "Especially for me, since I was a freshman and had to do everything. It was different, like I was looking for someone to help me, I guess. I think I did OK.

"We should be all right this year. We should have a lot of guards to handle the ball and take pressure away from everybody."

Last year, the Musketeers had no returning starters and very little depth, limiting what they could do in practice or in games. They're better off both ways as they make their move to the reconfigured Big East.

"It's much different this year," coach Chris Mack said. "For us, just finding the right fit based on who we play I think will be a much bigger advantage than what we had a year ago."

Here are five things to watch in the Musketeers' transition season:

CHRISTON'S DEVELOPMENT: The quick, 6-foot-3 guard scored a lot of points by driving to the basket. He made only seven 3-pointers and shot 25 percent behind the arc. Christon spent a lot of time working on his jump shot in the offseason.

"I know teams are going to play off me this year and force me to shoot, so I have to work on it," he said.

The quiet Christon also is working on becoming more of a vocal leader, knowing that's part of the expectations for a player of his stature.

"Semaj, to me, is one of the best players in the country," Mack said. "He has to grow in a leadership role. Just because you're a talented player doesn't mean that everybody is going to listen or that everybody is going to be led."

DAVIS' SECOND CHANCE: Davis played very little as a freshman because Tu Holloway was the point guard.

He inherited the job last season and had to deal with a sprained wrist, a concussion and the lack of depth at guard, which forced him to try to do more. He averaged 8.2 points and 3.4 assists per game - not bad considering the circumstances.

"I think he's really grown into more of the consummate point guard - think pass first," Mack said. "We've defined his role a little clearer. He probably doesn't have as much pressure on him to score baskets as he did a year ago."

RECONFIGURED FRONT LINE: The Musketeers lose their top front-line player in forward Travis Taylor, who averaged nine rebounds and 11.9 points. They return starting forward Justin Martin, who averaged 4.7 rebounds and 7.9 points, and forward Isaiah Philmore, who has a strong finish last season, averaging 10.6 points over the last 11 games.

Instead of being forced to change game-to-game because of the lack of depth, the Musketeers have been able to develop roles.

"That makes it so much easier for everybody," Philmore said. "Last year, nobody really knew what to do. This year, it's know your role, do your role and you'll win."

NEWCOMERS: Junior center Matt Stainbrook gives Xavier an inside threat at 6-foot-10, 263 pounds. He sat out last season after transferring from Western Michigan and toned up his body to get quicker. Freshman forward Jalen Reynolds and freshman guard Myles Davis will provide depth and points.

"Jalen's the most athletic person I've ever seen in my entire life, a freak athlete," Philmore said. "When Jalen figures it out and comes along later in the season, he's going to be exciting to watch."

BIG EAST DEBUT: The Musketeers are eager to see how they match up in their new league. Last season, they played the toughest teams close but faded at the end because of their inexperience and lack of depth.

"We feel we can play with anybody," Christon said.

Follow Joe Kay on Twitter: http://twitter.com/apjoekay

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