It's almost time for the first game of the season, which means it is time for us to post the final cherry on top of the sweet, sweet sundae that is our offseason coverage. We're going to give a brief rundown of every non-conference game on the schedule, link to our full breakdown from the award-winning "Know Your Non-conference Opponent" series, and each pick a winner so we have something to argue about later. Please enjoy, and don't forget to vote in the poll and go on record in the comments section so we can argue with you later, too.
NB: teams are noted with last year's record and this year's season-opening Ken Pom ranking. Full write-ups include in-depth information on the team's losses, returnees, incoming players, and playing style from our "Know Your Non-conference Opponent" series.
Gardner Webb was a fairly respectable team last year, clearing 20 wins thanks to a combination of slow play and pressure defense. The Bulldogs got to the glass well on both ends of the floor but had trouble converting that into consistent output due to poor shooting and a propensity for passing the ball to the wrong team. Furthering their issues this year will be the departure of three of their top four scorers from last season.
Returning is Donta Harper, whose 12.7/4.9/2.1 on .449/.133/.719 shooting came with the team's highest usage rate. Guard Tyler Strange, the team's leader in assist rate, also comes back, and the two are joined by transfer guards Naji Hibbert (Texas A&M) and Josh Castellanos (Mt. St. Mary's) and true freshman forwards Donnell Tuff and Tyrell Nelson. For the full write-up on Gardner Webb, click here.
Brad's pick: Win. FDU last year wasn't much of challenge, G-W won't be either.
Joel's pick: Win. Replacing three big cogs is tough, and GW wasn't that good to begin with.
KenPom's take: 70-56 Xavier win, 93% of any Xavier victory
The Vols are the first in a long line of incredibly slow teams Xavier is going to take on this season. With a few exceptions, the game is certainly trending towards slower play, and Xavier's schedule (and the team itself) bear that out. Tennessee is a stalwart defensive team, making life difficult inside and outside of the arc and cleaning up the defensive glass with aplomb. Teams miss a lot of shots against UT and don't pull down that many of those misses.
Look for that to continue this season as Jeronne Maymon and Jarnell Stokes - two mountainous big men - will join forces for the first time since the 2011-2012 after Maymon missed all of last year with a knee injury. Those two will pair with pro prospect guard Jordan McRae (15.7/4.1/2.0 on .423/.355/.771 last year) to make the Volunteers tough to stop when they go on the attack. For the full write-up on Tennessee, click here.
Brad's pick: Win. Xavier has the athletes to speed the game up on UT.
Joel's pick: Win. Stainbrook holds the line in the middle, Cintas crowd makes the difference in a narrow victory for X.
KenPom's take: 65-64 Xavier win, 56% chance of any Xavier victory
The Eagles (pun alert!) fly up and down the court. Unlike most of the plodders on Xavier's schedule, Coach Sean Woods's team loves to get out and go. Unfortunately, his teams haven't been that good at shooting the ball or not turning it over. They did turn over more than half their roster over the summer, so it's certainly possible that there will be a new look Morehead team for the upcoming campaign.
Those who do return include 6'11" center Chad Posthumus, who is a dominant rebounder on both ends but not much else. Wing Bakari Turner is a volume shooter who doesn't know how to turn it off, and guard Angelo Warner did a little bit of everything for the Eagles last season. Incoming players include JuCo big men DeAndre Leatherwood and Billy Reader, newly-eligible Mississippi Valley State transfer Brent Arrington, and freshman shlasher Aary Bibens. For the full write-up on Morehead State, click here.
Brad's pick: Win. I mean, come on.
Joel's pick: Win. Xavier sprints to 3-0 on the basis of just being better than Morehead State.
KenPom's take: 74-62 Xavier win, 89% chance of any Xavier victory
New RedHawks coach John Cooper has a year in Miami under his belt, and it wasn't a very good one. His trends as a coach of gambling for steals, getting crushed on the defensive boards, and having a poor EFG% all continued. On offense, his Miami team couldn't keep hold of the ball, rebounded poorly, shot poorly, and generally struggled to make any headway on offense.
Will Felder, a 6'7" forward, leads the meaningful returning players for Miami with his 11.6/5.3/0.9 line on .521/.269/.784 shooting. Sophomore guard Reggie Johnson got 8.4 per game as a freshman, and ball distributor Quentin Rollins easily led the team is assists but shot an abysmal .428/.267/.427. Miami also brought in a pair of 6'7" wings from Australia who combined to average 39 and 18 as seniors in high school. For the full write-up on Miami (OH), click here.
Brad's pick: Win. This game needs to be on the schedule most years, but right now it lacks the snap it used to have.
Joel's pick: Win. Miami isn't very good, and Xavier matches last year's results by sitting at 4-0 through their first four games.
KenPom's take: 71-58 Xavier win, 90% chance of any Xavier victory
Technically part of the Batte4Atlantis, this game will take place at the beginning of Thanksgiving week before Xavier heads off to the Bahamas and Abilene Christian - in their first year in Division 1 - head back to Texas to lick their wounds. The Wildcats are jumping into the Southland Conference this year, and the Musketeers are more than happy to head up the welcome committee that also includes St. Bonaventure, Maryland, and Iowa. Also, I'll bet some of the players were pretty salty to find out that they weren't heading to the B4A tournament proper.
Perhaps not helpfully for a 12-14 team jumping a division, Abilene Christian lost their top three scorers from last season. The leading returning scorer is 5'9", 160-pound guard Parker Wentz, who looks like his name sounds and averaged 8.3 per game last year. Everyone else who averaged more than one point per game last year - yes, you're reading that right, and yes, I double-checked their roster - is gone. Going to be a long year.
Brad's pick: Huge win and a great way to kick off one of the best weeks of the year.
Joel's pick: Win. Come on, son.
KenPom's take: 77-57 Xavier win, 97% chance of any Xavier victory
The Hawkeyes are looking to make amends for being the best team not to make the NCAA tournament last year. They weren't a very good shooting team last year, but they executed well, showing up in the top 100 in TO%, OR%, assist rate, and free throw rate. They were 22nd in the nation in defensive efficiency, excelling in both forcing misses and cleaning up the glass. The only player they lost had a usage rate of 12.9%.
Six-foot-six wing Roy Devyn Marble was the leading scorer for Iowa last year with 15 PPG average on .409/.327/810 shooting. Mike Gesell averaged 8.7/2.6/2.6 in only 25 minutes on a shooting line so similar to Marble's that I'm not even going to bother posting it. Guard Anthony Clemmons led the team in assist rate as a freshman last year and will likely see plenty of the ball this season. Six-eight forward Aaron White averaged 12.8/6.2/1.3 per game with 1.1 SPG thrown in. Melsahn Basabe averaged 1.2 blocks per game in only 18.5 minutes. For the full write-up on Iowa, including their myriads of returning players, click here.
Brad's pick: Loss. Iowa is a lot better than people think they are. This one won't hurt come March.
Joel's pick: Loss. The combination of the first non-home game and and Iowa's skill and experience is too much for Xavier.
KenPom's take: 71-65 Xavier loss, 29% chance of any Xavier victory