*This is the first in a series of articles looking at the top preseason storylines for Xavier basketball heading into the 2016-17 season.*
While Xavier lost three bodies this offseason expected to be on the 2016-17 roster, the Musketeers also added an interesting piece in Florida A&M transfer, Malcolm Bernard.
Bernard could potentially find a somewhat significant role on this Xavier team or he may never see the floor this season. No one will have more riding on the preseason practices and exhibition games than him. As a graduate transfer, his time is now and his opportunity is limited.
Bernard looks like he fits in as a wing in Xavier's offense, which essentially utilizes four perimeter players and a post. The biggest key for him in earning playing time will be how versatile he is on the defensive end. If he can slide with guards and bang with forwards, it greatly enhances his value to this year's team. And if he shows defensive stopper ability, then he has a chance to carve himself out a serious role.
Other than Bernard, freshman Quentin Goodin is the only other player on the team with stopper potential. Sophomore Kaiser Gates could end up being the team's best overall defender, but he's going to be asked to play bigger this season and at times could be the Musketeers' only post player in a small-ball lineup. He's not going to be the one chasing the other team's top perimeter scorers.
It's possible that Xavier doesn't have a great individual on-ball defender this year. Last season, the Musketeers often went extended stretches where Remy Abell never saw the floor, especially later in the season. They survived by playing good team defense within the Pack Line system and by having enough versatility to switch screens due to Trevon Bluiett often playing the 4. So, it's not essential. But it's a sure-fire way for Bernard to force his way onto the court.
We'll have to wait and see what happens in the preseason to get any type of answer on this. The competition Bernard faced at Florida A&M just wasn't good enough to make an accurate assessment of how his defense will translate to the Big East. He mostly defended opposing 3's and 4's for the Rattlers, but he was also one of their tallest and most athletic players.
In brief open gym viewings of Bernard since he's been on campus, he looks to have an offensive toolset that could help a Big East level program. He handles the ball well, he plays really fast in the open court, he's a good passer, and he scores in transition. However, Xavier already returns talented players that possess a lot of those qualities on offense, plus the returning players are more skillful shooters. With JP Macura, Trevon Bluiett, and Kaiser Gates all playing similar roles for the Musketeers; Bernard is battling for minutes at XU's deepest position of strength.
The fifth-year player seems to be taking the right approach. He mentioned in interviews when he committed that he was drawn to Xavier because of the talented roster and the opportunity for team success. He's dying to play and advance in the NCAA tournament. According to sources, he's been consistently spending late nights in the auxiliary gym putting up jumpers, and encouraging teammates to join him. He knows he's going to have to fight, scrap, and claw for every second of playing time he earns.
As a worst-case scenario, it looks like Chris Mack and his staff added a serviceable backup that will provide insurance in case of injuries or extreme foul trouble and competition on the wing in practice. However, Bernard looks like he may have the potential to be more than that. If he wants to prove it to the coaches, he better show that he can defend when practice starts.