Last year, Xavier took off west for Hawai'i in the aftermath of the Crosstown Shootout and ensuing brawl. With some of the best players on the team suspended, the Muskies dropped two of three and finished seventh in an eight-team field. This year, Xavier will be coming off of home games against Butler and Robert Morris. As a young team just trying to find its feet, the squad that hits the hardwood in Anaheim will have much in common with the one that played in Hawai'i a year ago. First on the docket for the boys in blue and/or white will be the Tigers of Pacific University.
Bob Thomason is the head coach at Pacific and has been since 1988, a solid two years before almost anyone currently on a collegiate roster was born. Thomason recently announced that he will retire after this upcoming season, which will mark his 25th at the helm of Pacific. His teams have recently played very slowly, with none of them in that past eight years averaging over 65 possessions per game and his last four being in the bottom 40 in the nation in pace. His offenses have kept their TO% under 20 in the past four years with assist percentages in the top 100 of basketball in three of those seasons. His teams have generally shot very well, but were 269th in EFG% last year. Defensively, Thomason's teams have never been very keen on forcing turnovers and were very poor at defending the glass (292nd in the nation in opponents' OReb%) last year.
Pacific lost no one - and I mean no one - of note from last year's team. Adam Eakles, Rundell Mauge, and Markcus Falley all left the program. Those three players combined for 3.76% of the team's scoring, 6.04% of its rebounding, and 4.44% of its assists in 5.68% of the team's minutes. Basically, the total of the three players Pacific lost is less than the contribution of any of the players Xavier lost this offseason (except for Griffin McKenzie).
As you would imagine of a team with so little departing, Pacific has a lot coming back. Rising senior guard Lorenzo McCloud posted 11.2/2.8/3.5 on a ghastly .386/.229/.758 shooting line. His EFG% of 41.9% was in large part mitigated by his assist percentage of 29.3%, just out of the top 100 in the nation. Six-foot-seven wing Ross Rivera poured in 11.0/3.7/0.4 on .492/.419/.847 shooting. Not only was he the team's most efficient scorer, but he also drew nearly 6.5 per 40 minutes on the court. Rising senior Travis Fulton put up 9.5/6.1/1.9 on .393/.351/.765 shooting, leading the team in rebounding despite standing only 6'6". Markus Duran is a 6' guard who added 7.0/1.7/1.1 but continued the trend of poor shooting with a .382/.357/.750 line. Six-foot-eight forward Khalil Kelley posted a 6.8/4.8/0.2 game line but was a brutal 37-101 from the line.
Thomason signed three JuCo transfers this summer to round out the Tigers' roster. Sama Taku is a 6'1" combo guard who scored 18 PPG and handed out 107 assists at Santa Rosa Junior College last season. Aaron Short is a 6'3" shooting guard who put up 15.2 PPG and hit 53 three-point baskets at Cabrillo College last year. He brings above average rebounding from the guard position. Finally, 6'9" power forward Tony Gill, who put up 18.2 and 9.3 last year at Cosumnes River College rounds out the class for Pacific.
This is another tough, veteran team that will provide a difficult test for Xavier's young squad. Defending Ross Rivera and keeping Lorenzo McCloud from controlling the game will be particularly instructive tasks for the Muskies' youthful roster. If Xavier can keep Pacific from holding the pace in check and smothering the Musketeers' full court game in check, this could be a good early-season win for Xavier. If not, this could be the start of another disappointing fall tournament for X.