Just one month from this very day, Xavier will be hitting the floor at Cintas to open the 2015-2016 season. The long summer will be over and we'll finally get to see how much progress the returning guys have made and what exactly it is we have in the new (or newly eligible) players. For Xavier, it will be the first step on the road to a season that could reasonably land in the Sweet 16 again. For their first opponent, the most realistic result likely doesn't involve the NCAA tournament at all.
John Cooper - late of Tennessee State - is the man at the helm for the RedHawks. He is entering his fourth year as their head coach, sporting a record of 35-59, which is obviously less than ideal. In six career seasons as an NCAA head coach, Cooper's lone post-season experience is a first round loss in the 2012 CIT.
The most consistent aspect of Cooper's teams has been a defense that swarms to force turnovers. In six years, he has placed five teams in the top 80 of TO% and four in the top 50. That comes at a cost though, namely completely conceding the arc for three-point attempts and being generally miserable at any aspect of defending that doesn't involve forcing turnovers or cleaning the glass. No team coached by Cooper has ever finished better than 250th in EFG% defense.
On offense, Cooper's teams are fairly average. They run at an average tempo and generally play to an average efficiency. Turnovers and offensive rebounding have been areas of relative weakness during his time at Miami, and his teams don't generally shoot a lot of threes. If you're looking for excitement, look elsewhere.
The team's most efficient scorer last year was Will Sullivan, who put up an ORtg of 117.3 on his way to 10.7/4.8/1.5 on .484/.444/.812 shooting. He finished 28th in the nation in EFG% before exhausting his eligibility and moving on. The only other meaningful player to depart from last year's roster is Jaryd Eustace, a reserve wing from Australia who left the team for personal reasons. He played 11.5 minutes per game and averaged 3.7/1.8/0.1.
Obviously, there are a bunch. Rising senior guard Eric Washington led the team in points and assists last year with a line of 14.2/3.2/5.5 on .451/.329/.795 shooting. He was 7th in the nation with an assist rate of 39.1% but stands only 5'10". Rising senior guard Geovonie McKnight went for 10.5/3.4/3.3 and tied Washington for second on the team with 1.4 steals per game.
The team leader in steals was Willie Moore, a 6'3" rising senior guard. He averaged 1.5 steals per game and was 19th in the nation with a 4.3% steal%. He also went for 7.3/2.8/1.1 on .419/.375/.725 shooting. Reserve forwards Chris Bryant and LJ Livingston each averaged 4.4 points and around 3 boards per game. Bryant is 6'8" and likes to step out and face up while Livingston is a couple of inches taller and plays around the rim.
But wait, there's more! Rising sophomore guard Zach McCormick averaged 4.2 points per game and shot 64 threes despite only making 16 of them. Rising sophomore big man Logan McLane rounds out the returning players who got double-digit minutes per game. He averaged 14.3 minutes and put up a respectable 4.2/2.6/0.6 line on .510/.360/.556 shooting.
Abdoulaye Harouna is a 6'5" guard transferring in from the College of Southern Idaho. He went for 9.7/2.6/1.3 on .360/.348/.677 shooting. He can get hot from three and carry a team, as he did in going 6-9 from deep in a win over North Idaho College, but he is also prone to prolonged cold streaks.
Forward Jere Vucica is a 6'8" grad transfer from the University of North Alabama. He put up 12.0 and 6.8 while blocking 20 shots and hitting 33 threes there as a junior. Also coming eligible is 6'6" guard Dion Wade, an Auburn transfer. He averaged 3 points per game as a freshman at Auburn, but he got caught in a roster crunch and transferred out when Bruce Pearl oversigned. He came out of high school with a reputation as a good shooter from deep and he should do well at Miami.
This should be an interesting year for Cooper and Miami. The team has seven scholarship seniors, six scholarship sophomores, and zero scholarship players in the junior and freshman classes. I'm honestly not sure if I've ever seen anything like that before. Beyond that, there's a decent assortment of talent on this roster and they could go places in the MAC. Where I don't think they're going is 1-0 on the way out of Cintas; Xavier should make fairly easy work of the RedHawks if the Muskies are as good as we hope.