It has been 231 days since Xavier played a meaningful basketball game. Those 231 days have been fairly eventful for the Musketeers, but we won't recount that havoc here. From today's game until ball goes up for the national championship game in Atlanta, 150 more days will pass. In that time, there will likely be a little bit of everything college basketball has to offer: the sublime and the absurd, clutch play and choking, stars emerging and careers fading away, highlight reel excellence and blooper reel gaffes.
All that is on down the road, though. Tonight, the Musketeers begin the first chapter of their season by hosting the Knights of Fairleigh Dickinson. Across the nation, all 345 college teams with be experiencing similar beginnings as they set out. At this point, all of them ostensibly have a shot at being national champs. In 150 days, two teams that have been the right combination of good and lucky will have the chance to duke it out for that crown.
Neither team has played a game this season, so there's not much to add to the preview found here. There is some fairly important team news, though. For FDU, 6'0" guard Lonnie Hayes has been dismissed from the team. He had previously been said to be out due to belated recovery from the injury that ended his season after 11 games last year, then due to suspension, and now he's been dismissed. Hayes was a scorer, but he got there in a fairly inefficient way.
In related news, the Knights have suspended four other players for this game. Included among those were Kinu Rochford, who led the team in rebounding last season, JuCo transfer guard Sidney Sanders, Jr, and sophomore reserve guard Dylan Moody, whose career high is five points. On the Xavier side, freshman point guard Semaj Christon is sidelined with an elbow infection stemming from a cut he received in practice. Word is that the move is mostly precautionary.
If you haven't already, join Banners on the Parkway and get into the mix here. We're working on building the community this season, so join the game threads, comment on the posts, and most of all tell us what you want to see more of and what doesn't float your boat. We look forward to spending the next four months agonizing over Xavier basketball with you.
-How will Dee Davis do in extended time? Davis was solid as a change-of-pace guard last year, coming into his own late in the season when he really began using his quickness to create chaos on the defensive end. He struggled at times on offense, but he always had at least a couple of more primary scoring options on the floor demanding the ball and the security blanket of Tu and Lyons behind him. FDU's diminished roster (they traveled seven scholarship players for the game) won't be his toughest test of the year, but it may begin to give us the answer to this question.
-Who steps up inside? Last season, Travis Taylor, Jeff Robinson, and pretty much every forward still on Xavier's roster proved fairly disappointing on both ends of the floor. For this team to keep its head above water, someone needs to provide a presence in the paint. With Isaiah Philmore out through suspension today, Taylor, Robinson, former walk-on Erik Stenger, and freshman James Farr should all have a shot to make some plays.
-How ready is Brad Redford? It takes more than a year to get all the way back from a knee injury like Redford suffered, and last year he showed signs of rust in game action. He is going to play a much bigger role on this year's team, which is a two-edged sword. If he's healthy, he doesn't have to look over his shoulder after every miss. If he's still having trouble, that's a long time to drag a bad leg up and down the floor.
-Move the ball. Xavier returns devoid of a proven, dynamic scorer, and the one player they thought could fill that role has an infected elbow. To be effective offensively with this crew, the Muskies have to commit to moving the defense to create easy opportunities for Davis to slash, Martin and Redford to shoot, and the bigs to post up.
-Work the crowd. The Muskies will be playing at home against a shorthanded team. Allowing the crowd to get involved in the game early can establish momentum and let the Knights know that they don't have a chance to win this game. Letting them linger will keep the crowd on edge and set a bad tone for at least the game and maybe further.
-Outwork Fairleigh Dickinson. Xavier definitely has the talent advantage tonight. That's not going to be the case in a lot of games this season. If Xavier wants to be able to pilfer games from teams that are more loaded (i.e., have a full compliment of scholarship players), they're going to need to outwork those opponents. Those habit don't happen overnight; today is the time to set that tone.
After a long summer, we're finally ready to get back to basketball. This is a game that Xavier should and probably will win, but the process is going to tell us more than the result tonight.