When Xavier's non-conference schedule comes out every summer, fans eagerly scan the announcement. Who and where will Xavier play during Thanksgiving weekend? When is the Crosstown
Shootout Classic? When during the conference season will Xavier play a Big Six foe, and who will it be? One team that rarely - if ever - figures in a Musketeer fan's thought process is the Fairleigh Dickinson Knights, but it is with them that we will begin our yearly tour of the Xavier Musketeers' non-conference slate.
Greg Vetrone is entering his third full season at Fairleigh Dickinson, having served as an assistant and then interim head coach of the program before signing on full time. He was 5-24 in his first year at the helm and followed that up with a 3-26 showing last year. The Knights have been to the NCAA tournament as recently as 2005, but they've kind of been a doormat since that time. The early portions of the Vetrone Era haven't been encouraging in regards to turning that around.
Vetrone's style - and I don't want to be too blunt about this - seems to entail being equally poor in all facets of the game. When a coach has a bad team, it can be difficult to discern his intent from the product on the floor. One thing I can say about the Knights under Vetrone is that they have played at a slightly higher than average pace. They have also been above average in defending two-point range, thanks in large part to blocking almost 10% of opponents' shots from inside the arc. Defense behind the arc, shooting, shooting from deep, keeping hold of the ball, offensive rebounding, and defensive rebounding have been weak points of Fairleigh Dickinson in recent years.
George Goode is the biggest loss from last year's squad; the 6'8" Louisville transfer averaged 12.8/7.4/1.6 in his only season at FDU as an immediately eligible transfer. Guard Briahn Smith was very good at not turning the ball over (14.2% TO rate), and his 6 PPG will also likely be missed by the Knights. Mouhamed Lo was another 6'8" forward for Fairleigh Dickinson who won't be returning this season, whose 310 minutes last season were fairly forgettable.
Leading scorer Melquan Bolding, a 6'3" rising senior, is coming back for the Knights. The Duquesne transfer averaged 15.1/3.0/1.9 on a gruesome .351/.292/.763 shooting line. He is, I don't have to tell you, a shameless volume scorer. Cincinnati native 6'0" guard Lonnie Hayes was leading the team with 13 PPG and 4 APG when he succumbed to injury after 11 games. His .343/.250/.700 shooting line is less than inspiring. Six-foot-six forward Kinu Rochford is the team's leading returning rebounder, with a game line 9.3/6.0/1.0 to show for his efforts. He was also the team's most efficient scoring option despite using the fourth most possessions. Lonnie Robinson's 35.4% was the team's best last season.
As you might expect from a team with FDU's recent record, the recruiting class is devoid of ESPN Top 100 player. Xavier Harris is a 6'6" power forward who averaged 14 and 7 in a prep year at The Peddie School last year. Myles Mann averaged 12 and 8 with 2.6 BPG as a senior, but his size (6'6") will probably make it difficult for him to match those numbers at the next level. Forward Kyle Pearson and 5'11" guard Sidney Sanders, Jr round out the recruiting class for Coach Vetrone.
Fairleigh Dickinson will be close to the weakest team that Xavier faces this year. With the amount of new faces in the Xavier squad this season, it makes sense that the first game of the year is against a team that has not been better than 300th in the KenPom ratings since 2007. If the Musketeers struggle to dispatch the Knights, that's probably not a good sign for the early parts of the year as X tries to integrate their new faces into the side. I don't think that will be an issue, though.