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It is always a long summer. This summer was shorter than the last by virtue of Xavier's inclusion in the NCAA tournament, but longer than we would have hoped when Xavier fell in the play-in game. Before any of us were ready for it, the long wasteland of college basketball oblivion was upon us.
It's over now, though. Last year's trophies and banners will be nothing but decorations tonight; the losses and missed opportunities that drove players all summer are now history. Every team in the nation woke up today with an unblemished record. The marathon begins now.
Northern Arizona remains largely the same team that they were when we profiled them over the summer. They're coming to Cintas to pick up a paycheck and Xavier is hosting them to pick up a win. This game is a weird part of the system that big-time college sports have turned into, but I choose not to think about it and instead just enjoy the ride.
Northern Arizona features four returning starters, including high-scoring senior wing Quintin Upshur. He is joined by a couple of volume shooters in the backcourt in Aaseem Dixon and Kris Yanku and a rebounding force at forward in Gaellen Berewinick. Look for 7'1" MiraCosta transfer Geoffrey Frid to get time inside in an effort to stifle the Stain Train.
-How much Dee can we give them? Dee Davis is nursing a rib injury, but Coach Mack is of the opinion that he will play. Hopefully his services aren't needed for too long, but it always helps to be able to call upon a floor leader of his experience if things get dicey.
-Who is the shooting guard? Brandon Randolph started in the backcourt in the exhibition game, but Coach Mack said he was "disappointed" in Randolph's performance when he looked at it on film. Remy Abell brings a steadier outside shot and tough defense to the table; it will be interesting to see how Coach Mack divides up minutes early.
-Which James Farr will arrive? Farr has been sensational in both season openers he's played in, but he has a JRob-like ability to completely disappear at times. He played almost half the game against Northwood and only shot the ball once. If Xavier wants to be deep in the frontcourt, they're going to need Farr to at least be a threat going forward.
-Start quickly. Games against teams you're a lot better than can be a lot of fun, but it's key to establish early on that the result of the game isn't in doubt. Xavier hasn't lost a home opener since before most of their current players were born, and there's no reason to even let that thought develop tonight.
-Get the new guys involved. Who wouldn't be a little jittery in their first college basketball game? Xavier brought in a lot of very talented dudes, and it should be a goal to get them all involved and contributing at some point during the game. They should be able to look back at this one as when they made their first college plays, not just the first time they stepped on a college floor.
-Go 1-0. The lights are on, and it's time to handle business. There's no reason Xavier should to anything but win this game.