Probably the first thing to know about the Puerto Rico Tip-off event is that it's not being played in Puerto Rico, having been moved to ESPN's complex to Orlando due to concerns about the Zika virus. The second is that everyone else is looking at the bracket and wondering what they're going to do about Xavier. Anyway, Bryan already covered Missouri for you, so let's take a look at the rest of the field in broad strokes.
Xavier will get one of Clemson and Davidson. Clemson is the bigger gun here. They went 10-8 in the ACC last year, at one point ripping off wins against Syracuse, Louisville, Duke, and Miami (FL) on the trot in January before fading down the stretch. They play a very low tempo game, relying on ball security and execution to bolster an otherwise nondescript offense. Their defense packs it in and avoids foul trouble, but they don't generally board that well and are nondescript in terms of forcing turnovers.
Gone are guard Jordan Roper (8.8/2.7/3.8) and big man Landry Nnoko (8.1/5.7/0.8), both serviceable players who got good minutes. More importantly though, all-everything forward Jaron Blossomgame is back; all he did last year was drop 18.7/6.7/1.5 on .513/.446/.782 and lead the team in minutes, ORtg, usage, EFG%, TO rate, block%, and fouls drawn. He's a monster. Also back is forward Donte Graham, the only other double-digit scorer from last year.
Davidson is a solid team in its own right, owing largely to the offensive genius of coach Bob McKillop. Davidson was 31st in offensive efficiency last year, thanks in large part to being 3rd in TO rate. Nearly half their shots come from behind the arc, they shoot well from everywhere, and they don't go to the glass basically at all. Their defense was bad (223rd) as a whole and especially bad in keeping opponents out of the lane, forcing turnovers, and rebounding. Who cares when you can run around chucking threes though?
Speaking of chucking threes, rising senior Jack Gibbs shot almost 8 a game on his way to 23.5/4.1/4.9 on .432/.335/.840 shooting last year. His ORtg was 108, but his usage rate was 8th in the nation. Also returning are efficient scoring win Peyton Alridge (15.5/6.5/2.2, ORtg 120.4) and rebounding monster Nathan Ekwu (11.1%/20.8% DReb%/OReb%). Gone are guard Brian Sullivan and his 99 made threes, but McKillop's high-octane offense looks primed to make life miserable for their opponents again this year.
The other side of the bracket:
Xavier will play only one of these teams. Hopefully that will occur in the championship game, but it could also be in the 5th-place or even 7th-place consolation game. If you've been a fan of X for more than just the last year, you don't need me to explain to you how someone gets the chance to play for 5th or 7th in an early-season tournament.
The team everyone is looking at coming out of this side of the bracket is Oklahoma. They stayed in the top 10 for most of last season, making a run to the Final Four before getting boat raced by Villanova. The Sooners did it mostly by raining threes on opponents, taking more than 40% of their shot attempts from deep and hitting 42.2% of those. They were kind of loose with the ball and a mediocre rebounding team. Defensively, they didn't force turnovers or kill possessions on the glass that well, but they rarely made mistakes and made teams beat them from difficult positions.
Of course, that might all change this year as three of their top four scorers - Buddy Hield, Isaiah Cousins, and Ryan Spangler, who accounted for 244 made threes and nearly 48 PPG - walked out the door. The leading returning scorer is Jordan Woodard, a dead-eye shooter in his own right who shot .416/.455/.805 last year, led the team in steals, and was second in assists. Also back is Khadeem Lattin, an absolute bully in the middle of the defense. His 5.6/5.3/0.6 game line isn't super impressive, but his block rate of 9.5% speaks to his ability to keep the rim secure. ESPN100 freshmen G Kameron McGusty - a 6'5" playmaker - and F Kristian Doolittle - a 6'8" bundle of energy in the paint - should get the chance to play right away.
The interesting teams:
Northern Iowa has established itself as a mid-major powerhouse, and last year they knocked off Texas in the tournament before succumbing to Texas A&M in 2OT in one of the wildest games to grace March. They take care of the ball well, score it okay, and never, ever go to the offensive glass. Three of their top four scorers from last year are gone, leaving ultra-efficient rising senior wing Jeremy Morgan (118.3 ORtg, .485/.407/.805 shooting) to shoulder a good deal of the load. This could be a rebuilding year for the Panthers.
UNI's first-round opponent is Arizona State, one of the best teams to finish under .500 last year. Losing six of their first seven conference games sent them into a spin from which they never really recovered. They lost a hair over 20 PPG in the departures of G Gerry Blake and F Savon Goodman in the offseason, but leading scorer G Tra Holder is returning to lead a deep roster that will be bolstered by three four-star freshmen. The class is led by three-level scorer Sam Cuncliffe and athletic big man Romello White. Coach Bobby Hurley has this team trending in the right direction.
Come on, it's Tulane. The team with the 301st-best offense in the nation lost its leading scorer and added a recruiting class led by a point guard ESPN describes as one-handed and turnover prone. It takes some effort to stay at the bottom of the AAC, and kudos to the Green Wave for going the extra mile in that department.
The bottom line is that Xavier is the best team in this tournament, though we know that doesn't always guarantee a championship. The Muskies should be able to handle Missouri in the first game to set up a pretty solid second matchup with a trip to the final on the line. It seems like a long time ago that we would fret over Xavier's performance in early-season tournaments; if X performs to potential in Orlando, those concerns will continue to fade into the rearview.