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Know Your Non-conference Weekend: Wooden Legacy

Xavier will make the trek out west this Thanksgiving to play three games in four days at the Wooden Legacy. Here is a quick look at the teams they'll face when they get there.

You could do worse than following John Wooden's blueprint for success.
You could do worse than following John Wooden's blueprint for success.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Thanksgiving is - for my money - the king of the holidays. It combines the family gatherings and food of Christmas without the awkward gift exchanges and threat of bad weather that come along with that holiday. Christmas, of course, brings with it the birth of our Lord and Savior, but I think we can be honest in saying that's not really what the trappings of the holiday are about in our current culture.

The peak of the Thanksgiving experience is the wall-to-wall basketball (get out of here, people who fetishize watching the Cowboys and then the Lions). Unfortunately for Xavier fans, the Muskies have made a sad habit of underperforming in recent Thanksgiving tournaments, opening the weekend with a disappointing loss to Pacific two years ago before losing three straight last season. Xavier will look to turn the ship around this year at the Wooden Legacy tournament on the 27th-30th. Here's what to expect.

The first hurdle:
Xavier will take on the Toreros of San Diego in their first round game at 4:30pm on Thanksgiving. While San Diego went just 18-17 last season, they return four starters and three double-digit scorers from the squad. Of meaningful contributors for SD, only rebounding force Dennis Kramer and his 11.5/6.6/0.8 line moved on from last year's squad. None of their incoming players figure to be formidable on the post, leaving the gap to be filled by returning big man Jito Kok (4.7/4.5/0.4 in 26.1 MPG last year).

San Diego's leading returning scorer is 6' guard Johnny Dee, who buried 94 threes last year en route to a line of 16.6/2.8/1.4 on .433/.418/.945 shooting. Also coming back is gunning wing Duda Sanadze, who put up 12.9/3.7/0.9 on .405/.301/.810 shooting. He led the team in usage rate and shots percentage despite a sub-par 48% EFG%. Rising senior Christopher Anderson is a 5'7" point guard who posted an impressive 10.3/3.7/6.2 line on .413/.443/.660 shooting last season. More than half his field goal attempts last year were from behind the arc, but he is a dangerous shooter and knows how to get the ball where it needs to be in the half court.

Underlying all of San Diego's numbers is the fact that they are San Diego. Their schedule last year included losses to Illinois-Chicago on a neutral court and Pepperdine and Santa Clara at home. West coast schools have done well in the Wooden event in years past, and Xavier's recent struggles in early-season tournaments are not soon forgotten, but the Muskies should have the talent to be in the winner's bracket by the time we're tucking into cold turkey and leftover pie.

The favorite:
UTEP comes into this year as the favorite to win Conference USA, which is interesting to me in that I didn't know they were in Conference USA. I guess my policy of not following realignment in the lesser leagues kind of let me down there, plus the fact that I thought the AAC was back to being Conference USA. Last year coach Tim Floyd dismissed McKenzie Moore, Jalen Ragland, and Justin Crosgile from the team for allegations regarding gambling on NCAA basketball games.

Despite a somewhat tumultuous season, UTEP brings back do-everything forward Vince Hunter (12.3/6.5/1.3). The rising sophomore sported a gaudy 55.1% EFG% to go with OReb%/DReb% numbers of 11.7%/16.8% and a 3.1% block%. If you're not a huge KenPom guy, just know that those are all great numbers and represent the fact that he scored efficiently, dominated the glass at both ends, and blocked a lot of shots.

Also returning is 6'10", 255-pound bruiser Cedrick Lang, who is a monster on the offensive glass. Farther out, rising senior Julian Washburn put up 13.1/3.5/2.5 and drilled 47 threes despite being 6'8". Returning PG CJ Cooper scored 9.8 PPG and led the team with 3 assist per game. All this adds up to an experienced and talented squad that has the size to bang with anyone and sported a smothering defense (14th in EFG% last year). They are rightly mentioned as one of the top teams in the event.

The dark horse:
The Washington Huskies are coming off of a disappointing 17-15 season, but there are reasons to believe they have a puncher's chance of taking this tournament. Chief among those is rising sophomore guard Nigel Williams-Goss, who put up a cool 13.4/4.4/4.4 last season with an assist rate of 26.9%. With leading scorer CJ Wilcox having moved on, Williams-Goss figures to be ready to step up and fill the gap. His delightfully named backcourt mate Andrew Andrews also returns, having posted 12.3/3.9/2.6 as a relentless gunner last season. His efficiency numbers were brutal, and working on bolstering that 43% EFG% will be priority 1a for his development.

Rising senior Shawn Kemp, Jr. has 1183 career minutes and 7 career assists. He's not a huge part of Washington's attack, but I thought that stat bore pointing out.

Incoming JuCo transfer wing Quevyn Winters may be the key to the season for Washington. He put up 11.9 and 4.9 on .405/.337/.727 for Indian Hills CC last season. If he can provide a viable third option for the Huskies, they may be able to ride their backcourt to a successful season. I've seen backcourt dependent teams go a long way in the past.

The rest of the pool:
We discussed Long Beach State earlier, and San Jose State and Princeton don't figure to be major players in this tournament or any of the major ones in March. Western Michigan is an intriguing team, as they were in the NCAA tournament last season by virtue of winning the MAC tournament. They got thumped by Syracuse in the first round then, though, and lost their top two scorers from that team. Those two guys combined to average 35.7; their top six returning scorers also combined to average 35.7. If I had to put money on it, I'd bet Western Michigan crested last year.

Just looking at it on paper, Xavier and UTEP are the class of this tournament. Whoever wins their presumed semifinal matchup would have to be considered the favorite going into the final. As we've seen, however, these things rarely play out how they look on paper. If Washington gets hot or something I've completely overlook happens, we'll see an underdog heading home with the silverware.