Ah, Thanksgiving, that time of year when a young man's fancy turns to caloric excess. If you're a Xavier fan, there's also usually a fair bit of basketballing disappointment to carry you through the weekend, though this does present a pretty solid opportunity to eat your emotions. We've already taken a look at Xavier's first-round matchup with Alabama; regardless of whether they win or lose, here's what awaits beyond that.
Xavier will play one of these two teams
The Shockers have grown from a Cinderella media darling to the Gonzaga of the lower Midwest under coach Gregg Marshall, finishing in the top 25 of the KenPom rankings for five straight years, four of which were rewarded with NCAA tournament bids. Marshall runs a slow but efficient offense based on protecting the ball and crashing the glass. Defensively, his teams have been the scourge of the MVC, generally forcing tough shots and rebounding very well. They rolled 2-seed Kansas in the second round last year before falling to Notre Dame in the Sweet 16.
Forward Darius Carter (11.4/5.4/0.5, .523/.571/.645, 28.6% usage rate) and G Tekele Cotton (9.8/3.9/2.9, .412/.289/.705, 18.3% assist%) both graduated. Carter was a huge frontcourt presence for them while Cotton got good minutes running in lieu of or alongside the starting backcourt. Speaking of which, Ron Baker (14.7/4.5/2.5, .433/.383/.758, 23.3% usage rate) and Fred Van Vleet (13.6/4.5/5.2, .430/.357/.796, 35.0% assist rate, 12.1% TO%) are that backcourt and are one of the best in the nation. Throw in ESPN100 wing Markis McDuffie and three-star SG Landry Shamet coming in and Wichita State will be a tough out this weekend.
Andy Enfield (speaking of Cinderella darlings) has had a rough first couple of years in Cali, though I'm sure he got paid well for it. USC actually defended at a decent level last year, but their offense was so ragingly inefficient that they staggered to a 12-20 record. USC will play fast and turn the ball over way too much if Enfield's pattern holds.
The Trojans bring back G Jordan McLaughlin (12.1/3.0/4.5), G Katin Reinhardt (12.5/2.4/1.7), and F Nikola Jovanovic (12.3/7.0/0.5) from last year. Bringing back three 12 PPG scorers is ostensibly a good thing, but these are not efficient players. None of them posted an ORtg over 99; national average was 102. USC brings in 6'9" ESPN100 forwards Bennie Boatwright - a smooth scorer with deep range but a questionable motor - and Chimezie Metu - a finesse post who has scoring savvy and is a surprisingly deft passer - to round out the roster. If the returning guys can tighten things up and the incoming forwards can get up to speed in a hurry, USC might be onto something this year.
Xavier will play one of these four teams
Notre Dame will be an interesting study this year. They have generally run one of the slowest offenses imaginable under Mike Brey, draining twenty seconds off the shot clock to no effect before trying to initiate anything. This kind of garbage is why we have a shorter shot clock now; we'll see if the Irish can keep up their admittedly very efficient output on the offensive end while having only 15 seconds to stand there and hold the ball before running a play. Defensively, Brey's teams don't force turnovers and will let you chuck the three. They also almost never send opponents to the line.
The Irish lost star wing Pat Connaughton (12.5/7.4/1.5) and guard Jerian Grant (16.5/3.0/6.7), but they bring back big man Zach Auguste (12.9/6.5/0.8, .619/.000/.636, 12.5% OReb%) and guards Demetrius Jackson (12.4/3.6/3.1, .508/.429/.745) and Steve Vasturia (10.1/3.0/1.7, .491/.411/.864). What they don't bring back is anyone who really distributed the ball to any great effect. Four-star recruits Rex Pflueger (a shooting guard with good feel and mid-range game), Elijah Burns (a solid four who gets after the glass at both ends), and Matt Ryan (the Atlanta Falcons quarterback and also a great shooting wing) will make the team better without addressing its biggest need.
The mighty Hawks stand out from the rest of the field here by virtue of not being expected to be very good this year. Their coach is the incredibly named King Rice. In my research to find out if that's his real name (it is, and his wife is named Summer), I found out that he kind of has a cool story. At 27 he was not only a former McDonald's All-American, a four-time Sweet 16 participant at UNC, and a successful assistant coach; he was also an alcoholic. After having to call his boss at the time (Kevin Stallings, then of Illinois State) to bail him out after a DUI, Rice gave up on the sauce and turned his life around. After doing some work as a personal trainer and then a manager at a T-Mobile store (I'm not making any of this up), he got back into basketball when Stallings hired him as a Vandy assistant. Kudos to Rice for fighting off his demons and getting a head job; Monmouth has steadily improved from miserable to mediocre in his four-year tenure.
A pair of upperclassman guards lead the way for Monmouth. Deon Jones (12.8/4.8/1.2, .462/.296/.811) is a senior who more effective as a slasher than a shooter, while 5'8" Justin Robinson (13.4/3.4/3.6, .420/.369/.793) is the team's primary ballhandler. Combo guard Joshua James can score in a variety of ways from inside the arc and is a deft passer; he's the gem of a four-man class for Monmouth.
I don't know if you know this about Fran McCaffery, but he's apparently a little bit of an offensive genius. He has put Iowa in the top 50 of offensive efficiency in four of his five years there, including fifth two years ago. His teams crash the offensive glass, make their free throws, and don't shoot a ton of threes. Aside from his first year there, they've also done really well in protecting the basketball. Defensively, his teams generally block a lot of shots while conceding the arc and only being sort of mediocre on the glass.
Center Adam Woodbury (6.6/5.2/0.9, .489/.000/.576, 11.3% OReb%, 17.4% DReb%) led the Big Ten in eyes poked last year; he's back to defend his crown this season. Gone are do-everything forward Aaron White (16.4/7.3/1.4) and center Gabriel Olaseni (8.1/4.8/0.4). The key returning man is Jared Uthoff (12.4/6.4/1.7, .430/.372/.737) a big man who could be Frank Kaminski Lite for Iowa this season. Guards Peter Jok (7.0/2.6/1.3, .358/.343/.902, horrible at shot selection) and Mike Gesell also return to help carry the load (7.4/1.9/4.0, .408/.267/.689, 32% assist rate).
UD has not only stayed above water during the transition to Archie Miller, they've actually been annoyingly successful. Miller's teams have been solid on offense, generally playing slowly and doing well on the offensive glass (ignoring last year's numbers after he dismissed everyone tall enough to ride a roller-coaster). Beyond that, he usually fits the offense to the personnel. Defensively, his teams have rebounded very well and done well at forcing turnovers through ball pressure.
Dayton played small last year largely (hey-OH!) because big men Devin Scott (9.1/7.4/0.8) and Jalen Robinson (3.2/2.4/0.8) were dismissed from the team in connection with a string of burglaries on campus. If you're curious what the connection was, they weren't the victims. Dyshawn Pierre (12.7/8.1/2.9) survived the season before being dismissed for being accused of (but not charged with) rape. He is not enrolled at Dayton this semester. In all that excitement, guard Jordan Sibert left school the old-fashioned way, having exhausted his eligibility with a 16.1/3.3/2.0 senior season. Coming back is forward Kendall Pollard (12.7/5.3/1.1, .552/.333/.580, 17.3% DReb%) along with guards Scoochie Smith (9.2/3.1/3.8, .414/.380/.755, 24.8% assist rate) and Kyle Davis (7.1/2.8/2.4, .456/.221/.707, 3.1% steal%). I would be surprised to see any of Dayton's incoming freshmen play a big role this year, but New York PG Dayshon Smith is a guy to watch over the next few years.
This is a loaded field. Xavier has the chance to really do some good for the ol' March resume here, and potential for damaging losses is minimal. If Xavier ends up playing Monmouth, something bad/surprising has happened. I should hope the Muskies handle Alabama in the opening round. After that I would love a matchup against Wichita State to give Xavier's coalescing backcourt an early test. I think Notre Dame will be the squad to come out of the other side of the bracket; whether Xavier plays them in the championship game or pulls Iowa or Dayton in a consolation matchup, this should be a weekend that gives Xavier fans a good early look at what this team is capable of.
Or they could lay an egg (again) and end up pulling off on OT win against Monmouth to take home seventh place.