It has been 238 days since the Xavier Musketeers last stepped onto a basketball court for a meaningful game, but the long offseason is finally over. From this point forward, there are exactly 125 days until the ball goes up for the National Championship game in New Orleans. Xavier - along with ostensibly all of the NCAA 345 other Division 1 basketball teams - begins the season with aspirations to be one of the last two teams playing with a chance to hang the most coveted banner of all in their rafters.
The longest journey, it has often been attributed to Confucius, begins with a single step, and the Xavier basketball season is no different. The Morgan State Bears roll into Cinci tonight looking to add an early, impressive win to their tournament resume. Normally in this space, we'd spend three or four paragraphs discussing how the opponent had played up to this point in the season and analyzing how they matched up with X. Morgan State hasn't played any games since we broke them down over the offseason, so we'll forgo the repetition. For in-depth info on the Bears, click here.In brief, Morgan State is a bad shooting team and has been for several years, which is kind of odd. They do get to the offensive glass well and have traditionally played very good defense. Their rankings in forcing turnovers and keeping other teams off of the glass were particularly last year, and X fans should expect more of the same this year. They also don't take a lot of shots from beyond the arc, preferring instead to bang the ball into the post and play patiently.
Their main post threat is Kevin Thompson, a 6'9" forward who posted 13/9/1 with 1.3 blocks per game last year. He also has a conference Defensive Player of the Year award under his belt. DeWayne Jackson, a 6'8" swing man, gets buckets from inside and outside, led the Bears in scoring last year, and figures to be a matchup handful from Jeff Robinson from the offing. Guard play is not good for Morgan State; returning starter Aric Brooks managed to shoot enough to get 10.2 PPG despite a .361/.309/.792 shooting line.
-Who runs the point? The obvious answer is Mark Lyons, who is in the starting lineup at the one. It will be interesting to see if Coach Mack has enough faith in Dee Davis to move Lyons to the two for long stretches of tonight's game. Against a good Bears defense, this should show the Muskie faithful how much help we can expect Tu to have bringing the ball up this season.
-What about Jeff Robinson? Robinson averaged 11 points in Xavier's first three games last year, then promptly disappeared until the LaSalle game. With the depth on X's roster right now, Coach Mack has shown a lot of faith in Jeff to start him in tonight's home opener. If Robinson can establish a niche for himself - defense, getting to the glass, anything - now's the time for him to do it. The team doesn't need a lot of points from Robinson, but he does need to establish utility somewhere.
-How functional is Xavier's depth? Much has been made of the accumulation of talent Xavier has this season, but there are caveats in play with nearly all of it. Redford and Walker have injury histories; Martin, Davis, and Wells will be playing in their first real college games; Travis Taylor couldn't unseat Jeff Robinson from the starting lineup. Xavier's new weapons weren't world-beaters in the Bellarmine game; this game is the first step to seeing how good the bench actually is and how much faith Coach Mack has in it.
-Control the ball. Lyons hasn't run the point much in college, and Dee Davis hasn't done it at all. Both are talented and capable, and they need to show that tonight.
-Feed the beast. Morgan State doesn't have anyone who should challenge Big Kenny in height, breadth, and skill. He should be able to own the paint against the Bears, and X should be able to exploit that advantage.
-Get one in the books. It has been a long time since Xavier dropped a game at home to a team of Morgan State's caliber (no offense intended, MSU fans), and tonight shouldn't break that trend. With Tu serving his suspension, the Muskies should still be able to take care of business tonight and get the season off to a winning start.
Xavier is better than Morgan State. MSU has enough talent to be interesting, so this game won't be a walkover for X, but the Muskies should be able to win handily and get the new players their first taste of Musketeers basketball without too much drama.