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 KenPom 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.
Northern Arizona is the kind of opponent you'd expect Xavier to play the first game of the season. They finished second in their conference last season, but they were still under .500 and coach Jack Murphy is still finding his feet as far as setting an offensive game plan at this level. Defensively, they've focused on rebounding and choking the paint at the expense of letting teams do whatever they want behind the arc.
The Lumberjacks lost just one starter from last year, 6'8" forward Max Jacobsen. They bring back 6'5" wing Quinton Upshor and his 15.3/3.3/0.8/ on .443/.382/.718 shooting. Returning guards Aaseem Dixon and Kris Yanku averaged 11.2 and 9.7 PPG respectively and are both shameless gunners. JuCo guard Jaleni Neely will challenge for time at both guard spots right away, and fellow JuCo transfer Max Frid is a 7'1" mountain who averaged 13 and 10 at MiraCosta last season. For the full write up on Northern Arizona, click here.
Brad's pick: Win. I mean...
Joel's pick: Win. Off to a flying start to the year!
WestCoastd'Artangan's pick: Big win. The season opener is always a cupcake and this one is no different. I expect X to blow them out in the second half.
KenPom's take: 75-62 Xavier win, 91% chance of any Xavier win
Dan Monson's Long Beach State teams have been built on freewheeling offense, playing with above average pace and turning the ball over like nobody was tracking that stat. Defensively, they don't force turnovers, concede the arc, and have troubling taking care of the paint; that's not a recipe for good defenses, and LBSU haven't had them.
This year's Long Beach team is stacked with upperclassmen, having lost only C Dan Jennings (9.8/8.3/0.5 on .594/.000/.450) from last season. Guard Michael Caffey (16.2/4.4/4.3 on .409/.290/.663) and wing Tyler Lamb (15.4/3.6/2.2 on .415/.370/.761) are both volume scorers and AJ Spencer got his 9.1 per game on and more respectable .464/.203/.750 line. Returning six-foot-seven forward David Samuels is a beast on the offensive boards, and immediately eligible transfer C Eric McKnight will help out in the middle. For the full write up on Long Beach State, click here.
Brad's pick: Win. A step up in competition from Northern Arizona, but still not serious competition.
Joel's pick: Win. Long Beach State's experience makes this a trickier matchup that it looks at first glance, but Xavier is the more talented team.
WestCoastd'Artangan's pick: Another big win. Even though the beach bums have made news in the past, I don't seem them posing a real threat for Xavier.
KenPom's take: 75-67 Xavier win, 78% chance of any Xavier win
SFA ripped off 32 wins in 35 games last year thanks largely to a soft schedule. Their offensive plan was to play slowly under first-year head coach Brad Underwood, who had his team avoiding turnovers and hitting the offensive glass at an elite rate. Their defense was predicated on high-pressure, forcing turnovers and contesting the three-point arc.
Nearly 40 points of scoring graduated, with leading scorer G Desmond Haymon, three-point gunner G Deshaunt Walker, and jack-of-all-trades F Nikola Gajic exhausting eligibility. Haymon and Gajic were also top defenders last season. Returning are 6'6" F Jacob Parker (14.2/7.1/2.0 on .538/.469/.799), the team's most efficient scorer of last year, and wing Thomas Walkup, who was right behind Parker with 13.1/5.3/2.1 on .568/.359/.733. Three JuCo players also join the fold, with former Samford wing Clide Geffard, Jr. being a potential standout. For the full write up on Stephen F. Austin, click here.
Brad's pick: Win. Would have been a great game last year.
Joel's pick: Win. I think Stephen F. Austin will be back in the tournament this year, but this is awfully early in the season for them to have all the new parts clicking.
WestCoastd'Artangan's pick: Win. On paper we match up well, so it should be a comfortable win.
KenPom's take: 70-64 Xavier win, 72% chance of any Xavier win
What Stephen F. Austin was last year, Murray State was in 2012. Now the reigning CIT champs, Murray State relies on getting and converting good shots on offense. They're a decent offensive rebounding team and below average in both assists and avoiding turnovers. Defensively, they have had trouble forcing turnovers and defending the glass, which has led to subpar defensive efficiencies the last two seasons.
Sharp-shooting guard Dexter Fields (9.6/3.1/1.5, 42% from three) graduated; everyone else of import comes back. Guard Cameron Payne led the team in scoring, assists, and steals as a freshman last year, hit 72 threes, and was 26th in the nation in assist rate. Jarvis Williams is a 6'8" forward who averaged 14.9/9.9/0.6 on .648/.000/.659 last season, and guards TJ Sapp Jeffrey Moss round out the 13+ PPG scorers returning. Incoming players include 6'7" First Team JuCo All-American Wayne Langston and 6'2" shooter JayQuan McCloud. For the full write up on Murray State, click here.
Brad's pick: Win. 4-0 without breaking a sweat as we head to the Wooden.
Joel's pick: Win. Murray State has an impressive mid-major team, but Xavier's experience and talent should carry the day; this will be a decent early test for X though.
WestCoastd'Artangan's pick: Win. This is not the same team that got everyone's attention; Xavier should roll through them.
KenPom's take: 75-70 Xavier win, 71% chance of any Xavier win
The Toreros of San Diego have returned four starters and three double-digit scorers from their team last year, with big man Dennis Kramer and his 11.5/6.6/0.8 line moving on. Two diminutive but prolific guards lead the way for San Diego, with 6' Johnny Dee having gotten his 16.6/2.8/1.4 on .433/.418/.945(!) shooting, and 5'7" Christopher Anderson going for 10.3/3.7/6.2 on .413/.441/.660 shooting and saving the athletic department money by hiding in a duffel bag and being taken as carry-on luggage when the team has to fly.
San Diego had trouble both causing and avoiding turnovers last year, and their struggles on the offensive glass will be amplified by Kramer's graduation. They can really shoot the ball from deep, though, and they could well bomb Xavier out of this game if the Muskies fail to secure the three-point arc. Fortunately, that's never been a weak spot for X, right?
Brad's pick: Win. By the way, KenPom has none of these teams ranked over 90th.
Joel's pick: Win. As much as Xavier's track record in recent Thanksgiving tournaments and against three-point shooting teams unsettles me, I'm betting they can do enough to handle this game.
WestCoastd'Artangan's pick: Win, but it will be close. Xavier always seems to struggle at Thanksgiving tournaments, so I am a bit wary of this game. I think it will be scary close for 38 minutes before Xavier finally pulls away.
KenPom's take: 70-66 Xavier win, 63% chance of any Xavier win
After that, it's anyone's guess who Xavier will play (though a reasonable guess would involve UTEP at some point). The Musketeers will be all the way across the country, which is a position that has not served them well recently, and there are a couple of other quality teams in this tournament. The winner of the presumed UTEP/Xavier matchup will probably win the tournament, but look for Washington to have the quality to make a run if they get hot. For the full write up on the Wooden Legacy, click here.
Brad's pick: I want to say Xavier will at least make the final, but I'm torn because we tend to be awful around Thanksgiving. I'll stick with that.
Joel's pick: 1-1. My brain tells me Xavier has the talent to win the tournament, but my gut is still afraid of them completely no-showing in an attempt to ruin my weekend. Like a total coward, I've split the difference here.
WestCoastd'Artangan's pick: A win over probably UTEP in the second round in a nail biter. I think Washington will face us in the finals, and we'll probably lose because X always seems to screw it up in the holiday tournaments.
Part two will run at 5pm, and Brad will bring us part three - the Big East preview - in late December on the eve of conference play.