No. 14 Xavier tries to follow guards to big things
Holloway made only one field goal in the Musketeers' 66-55 loss to Marquette in the first round of the NCAA tournament last season, a surprisingly fast exit that still stings the Atlantic 10's player of the year. Marquette focused its defense on the playmaking point guard, giving him no room to do anything. He finished with one field goal.
''I remember how I felt after the game. I'm almost tearing up right now thinking about it,'' Holloway said, quickly rubbing both hands across his eyes. ''It's just a bad situation because I know I let everybody down. I let myself down. I let my teammates down.
''Some games are just so much out of my control that I can't put my fingerprints on it.''
His fingerprints will be all over this season for Xavier, and they won't be the only ones.
The No. 14 Musketeers were ranked in the AP's preseason poll on Friday for the first time in nine years. They're accustomed to starting the season on the cusp of the Top 25, losing a few games during their difficult nonconference schedule, then growing into one of the nation's top teams on its way to another A-10 title and NCAA tournament appearance.
They've gotten a head start on it this season.
''It gives us a little more of a swagger,'' junior guard Mark Lyons said. ''But I'd also say that in the past couple of years, we'd get ranked late and we'd see other teams fall out of the rankings.''
They don't want to be one of those teams bottoming out as the season goes along. Instead, they want to be celebrating a sixth straight A-10 regular season title and a seventh straight NCAA tournament appearance with one of their most versatile rosters in recent years.
Seven-foot senior center Kenny Frease anchors a front line filled with experienced newcomers. Forward Andre Walker, who occasionally played point guard at Vanderbilt, transferred to Xavier for his final season. Travis Taylor, a 6-foot-8, 220-pound power forward, sat out last season after transferring from Monmouth, where he averaged 17.8 points and 7.6 rebounds as a sophomore. Junior Jeff Robinson returns as well.
Junior Brad Redford, one of the nation's most accurate 3-point shooters, returns after missing last season with a knee injury. Freshmen Dezmine Wells, Justin Martin and Dee Davis are expected to play significant roles off the bench, giving coach Chris Mack his most diversified roster in his three seasons.
''We have answers at almost every position,'' Mack said.
And, they have Holloway, who holds it all together.
The 6-foot guard considered the NBA, then decided to return for his final season. He led the Musketeers in scoring at 19.7 points per game last season and topped the A-10 with 5.4 assists. He also was Xavier's top 3-point shooter, making 34.5 percent as their best long-range option.
Holloway averaged 38.4 minutes per game and always had the ball in his hands in the frenetic final minutes, using his speed to get into the lane and draw fouls or back off and shoot a 3. Teams would set their defenses to stop him, with occasional success - Marquette never let him get into a flow.
When the other guards struggled or g0t into foul trouble, Holloway tried to make up for it.
''I believe whole-heartedly that was part of our downfall at the end of the season a year ago,'' Mack said. ''Tu tried to take on the weight of the world in that Marquette game.''
Mack talked to Holloway about sharing the load this season.
''Unlike a year ago, we have some pieces, some players that are more talented,'' Mack said. ''Tu and Mark (Lyons) can put those kids in positions to be successful, where I think maybe they weren't as confident a year ago. We have some talented players beyond those two guards that get a lot of headlines.''
Xavier will find out about that supporting cast right away. Holloway has been suspended for the opener against Morgan State because he played in too many summer league games.
Holloway doesn't mind sharing - his assist total is evidence of his willingness to pass the ball. But when the game's on the line and it comes down to making a shot, he prefers to be the one taking it.
''I've got a lot of faith in my team,'' Holloway said. ''But I like to control my own fate. I want other people to help me, but I feel I'm the one that controls it.''