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How high can Xavier hoops go this season?

Posted at 11:40 PM, Nov 10, 2017
and last updated 2017-11-10 23:40:01-05

CINCINNATI -- If Friday's opener is any indication, Xavier's men's basketball team is in for a monster season.

The No. 17 Musketeers walloped youthful Morehead State 101-49 before 10,224 fans at Cintas Center, clinching the program's 28th straight season opening victory. They did it in style, too, securing the largest margin of victory in XU annals since a 57-point drubbing of Louisiana Monroe in 1997.

Is this Chris Mack's best team yet? Quite possibly, yes.

One game against a youthful Eagles club that lost most of its scoring from last season is no indication of how Xavier will play against, say, the University of Cincinnati or Villanova. Not many teams will shoot 23.7 percent in a game like Morehead State did, or convert just six field goals in a second half.

But it's certainly a promising start.

"I was excited about our effort for 40 minutes. I thought on the defensive end we did not play the score; I thought we played to win and we competed all the way through. That's not always easy to do," Mack said.

Five players scored in double figures, led by Trevon Bluiett's 25 points in 22 minutes. J.P. Macura reeled off eight straight points to start the game and finished with 18, also in 22 minutes. The Musketeers shot a sizzling 67.9 percent throughout, including an eye-popping 57.1 percent from the perimeter, and led by as many as 58 points.

RELATED: Why did Xavier star Trevon Bluiett return for his senior season?

The Bluiett part of the equation was particularly interesting, as he had been sidelined with a shoulder injury recently. The Player of the Year candidate did not compete in Xavier's exhibition win over Thomas More last week, allowing more time to rest his shoulder.

The ailment didn't appear to slow Bluiett in the first game of his senior season. He made nine of his 12 shots, including five 3-pointers.

"I'm surprised quite honestly -- and maybe I shouldn't be -- that Tre shot as well as he has because he hasn't practiced a whole lot. He's only been going live maybe the last couple of days, and that's not always easy to do, is step right in and look like you never left. It's a credit to him. He's a phenomenal player," Mack said.

Macura and Bluiett combined for nearly 43 percent of Xavier's points. The Musketeers would have prevailed mathematically even if the duo had stayed in the locker room all evening, which is a tribute to the other offensive weapons on the roster and a good indication of balance.

Even the freshmen -- Naji Marshall, Paul Scruggs and Elias Harden -- helped maintain continuity despite their inexperience at the college level.

In short, Xavier looked even better than a 17th-ranked team. Pollsters who slotted them in that preseason position might have been swayed by the losses of Malcolm Bernard, RaShid Gaston and Edmond Sumner, the last of whom suffered a season-ending knee injury in January; proponents of a higher ranking could point to the Elite Eight run last season and Gaston's diminished playing time down the stretch.

Either way, the core of the team is back. Xavier has four hungry final-year players in Bluiett, Macura, Sean O'Mara and Kerem Kanter, plus their highest-ranked recruiting class in history in Harden, Marshall and Scruggs.

With a game at Wisconsin and a tournament in Las Vegas just around the corner -- not to mention the Skyline Chili Crosstown Shootout on Dec. 2 against possibly the best UC team under Mick Cronin -- cleaning up liabilities is imperative. On the to-do list: Minimizing turnovers, which plagued Xavier in its closed scrimmage against Ohio State and recurred in both halves Friday.

The Musketeers finished with 15 miscues against a Morehead State team that scored 13 points off them. Some mistakes were due to miscommunications, a couple could be chalked up to first-game jitters, and a few were by non-scholarship players in the last minutes.

It's a small point to quibble in a game where Xavier dominated nearly every statistical category, but it's an area to watch moving forward.

In the meantime, there's plenty of highlight reel fodder.

Sophomore Tyrique Jones even realized a goal Friday when he swiped the ball from Djimon Henson near midcourt and took it all the way to the basket for an electric one-handed jam that energized the crowd.

Asked about it afterward, he smiled.

"I've been waiting for one of those since I've been here," Jones said, inciting laughter in the Cintas Center media room. "Once I got it, I just took advantage of it."