We're finally into September, which means the start of real practice and eventually basketball season is just around the corner. Sounds like time to get the ball rolling on giving you the various bits of information you'll need to be prepared for the games when they roll around. We'll start out by taking a look at the non-conference opponents on Xavier's schedule. Some are familiar, some are less so, but we'll give you the rundown on each of them in the next six weeks or so. Let's start with the opponent in the home opener, Northern Arizona.
Jack Murphy is beginning his third year at the helm of Northern Arizona, his first D-1 head coaching position after spending year in various positions in both the NCAA and the NBA. Despite a 26-38 career record, Murphy just signed a contract extension set to run through 2019 based largely on the team's second-place finish in the Big Sky last year. Northern Arizona climbed from 11-21 his first year to a more respectable 15-17 last season.
On offense, Murphy's two years have been a bit of a study in contrasts. He ran (adjusted tempo of 68.2, 72nd nationally) his first year before pulling back by 4.5 possessions per game last season. Both teams had trouble taking care of the ball, but last season's team was at least respectable in terms of shooting from both inside and beyond the arc and very good going to the glass. It's hard to say for certain what Murphy's plan going forward is, though, because his two seasons have produced two very different offensive stat lines.
Defensively, Northern Arizona basically concedes the arc. This is not necessarily a bad strategic decision, but the Lumberjacks were 293rd in the nation in 3P% against two years ago and 347th (of 347) last season. They also don't force very many turnovers, but Murphy's teams have done well in blocking shots and defending the glass. Still, that three-point number is a crippler.
Just one, but it's a fairly big one. The Lumberjacks saw 6'8" forward Max Jacobsen graduate, depriving the team of 12.3/4.2/1.5 on .591/.294/.662 shooting. Jacobsen was third on the team in usage rate, second in scoring, and first in EFG%. His rebounding was not exemplary for a power forward, but his graduation definitely leaves a gap in the ranks.
Pretty much everyone else, obviously. Rising senior Quinton Upshur is a 6'5", 207-pound wing who led the team in scoring with a 15.3/3.3/0.8 line on .443/.382/.718 shooting. Leading the team in shots% and usage rate, he is their go-to guy on the offensive end and chips in 1.6 steals per game on defense. Six-foot combo guard Aaseem Dixon led the team when listed alphabetically last year and posted a 11.2/2.7/2.2 line on .394/.358/.769 shooting. Rising sophomore Kris Yanku is a 6'4" guard who shot .385/.379/.827 on his way to 9.7/2.7/2.8 per game last year. He only shot 24% on two-point jumpers, which indicates to me he isn't a bad shooter so much as he had a problem selecting shots rather; experience should help his number climb.
Six-foot-six rising senior Gaellan Bewernick - in addition to probably resenting his parents a little bit for that name - put up 7.3/5.9/1.8 on .460/.370/.628 shooting and led the team in DReb% with 18.8% despite spending most of his time at the three. Forward Jordyn Martin was the only other player to average more than 15 minutes per game, and he led the team in OReb% (11.4%) while trailing only Bewernick in DReb% at 16.7%. Finally, 6'7" rising sophomore Ako Kaluna average 4.3 points per game despite only playing 11.9 minutes thanks to a shots percentage of 22.2% and a decent .456/.192/.711 shooting line.
The Lumberjacks added a couple of immediately eligible JuCo guys in Jaleni Neely and Geoffrey Frid. Neely is a six-foot point guard who averaged 14.4/4.1/4.5 on a shooting line of .415/.368/.816 last seaon. at Eastern Utah last year. He comes in with a reputation for being quick off the bounce and being able to create baskets for himself and his teammates, but his 39-106 from behind the arc is nothing to sneeze at. Frid is a 7'1" who played last year at MiraCosta, putting up 13.4/10.2/0.5 on .516/.000/.631 shooting. Frid redshirted a year at Cal-Berkeley before playing at MiraCosta and has three seasons of eligibility left.
Tate De Laveaga is the lone incoming freshman. A 6'3" combo guard who played for his dad in high school, his best asset right now is his shooting, which shows a consistent stroke and good range. He can run a team in the half court but is still working to improve his decision-making in transition. Athleticism is a concern for him, and he - like most kids making the jump to college - needs to put on some muscle.
Northern Arizona fits the bill for what a major program wants early on. After playing and winning four games in Brazil in August, Xavier will have every chance to go ahead and start the season in the same fashion. The Lumberjacks have some good players who could punish a team that gets complacent against them, but the Muskies should run them off the floor if they execute.