With the announcement of the 2011-12 schedule today we, finally, have something of some import to discuss. Xavier started last year 9-7 before ripping off the 15-1 conference run that propelled them to a #6 seed. The non-conference was clearly vital to the shaping of the team. Director of Basketball Administration Mario Mercurio backed that by telling us that the idea behind the guarantee games and the stiffening of the schedule afterward was to ensure that the right games were played in the right order.
This year, the guarantee games are limited. IPFW, Morgan State, and maybe Miami are the only three. From the Miami game on the 18th of November until a game at La Salle on the 4th of January, there are no sure things.
The Guarantees: Every college team at every level tries to ease into the season. There are defensive rotations to perfect, playing time to sort out, and new team managers to break in. To that end, teams like Syracuse often play double digit games in their home state. Xavier, on the other hand, doesn't have the Big East to fall back on once conference play starts. Because of that, the guarantee games cannot be too weak or too plentiful. Mercurio said that "it's almost better to not even play that game" in regard to playing teams with sub 300 RPI. That's how you end up with IPFW, Morgan St., and Miami as your guarantees. Miami is always tough, but look for the Musketeers emerge from the opening three unscathed.
Murderer's Row: The same thing can probably not be said of the next ten games. Starting on the 25th of November with Georgia, Xavier wades into the thick of the toughest schedule they've ever had. Vanderbilt (away), Purdue, Butler (away), UC, Oral Roberts, the Diamond Head Classic, and Gonzaga come before La Salle provides a reprieve.
For those of you have may forgotten, Georgia was a #10, Vanderbilt was a #5, Purdue a #3, Butler the national runner-up, UC was a #6 (and is UC), and Gonzaga a #11 in last year's tournament. The Diamond Head Classic is loaded with Auburn, Clemson, Kansas St., UTEP, and Southern Illinois. Duke won't challenge themselves like this, OSU won't challenge themselves like this, as a matter of fact, no one will. When Xavier comes out the other side, they will be either a Final Four contender, or a team on the brink.
Memphis: Memphis sat themselves down right in the middle of a conference schedule that we'll break down in our conference preview. The Tigers will present the last chance for a national boost for a team in the midst of a stretch that includes St. Louis, Charlotte, George Washington, and Rhode Island. The Xavier front office may say that they don't schedule specifically for the RPI, but Memphis will certainly be a great boost, intentional or not.
The schedule that Xavier has compiled this year presents both a challenge and an opportunity. If Xavier's talent emerges how the powers that be think it will, the Musketeers will enter February looking like a team destined for great things. If the talent lags, or if injuries hit, this schedule will not be forgiving. In short, this is the season that Xavier fans have been waiting for.