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Xavier basketball 2016 season preview, part 1

We’ve got opponents at a glance, quick breakdowns, and our picks for every game in the first half of the non-conference schedule.

Xavier v Weber State Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Holy cow, the season opens this week. Most of us have been locked in on this date for some time now, but you can be forgiven if you're not 100% up to speed with the college basketball world. Maybe you were distracted by fall weather. Maybe - like me - you were busy watching your baseball team slowly render you emotionally dead (again). Whatever the case, we're going to give you the cliff's notes version of everything you need to know to be the most informed guy or gal in your section by Friday.

Brad got you up to speed on the Big East yesterday; now we're taking the baton as a team and giving you the breakdown and our picks for every non-conference game on the schedule for Xavier.

NB: teams are noted with last year's record and this year's season-opening KenPom ranking. Full write-ups include in-depth information on the team's losses, returnees, incoming players, and playing style from our "Know Your Non-conference Opponent" series.

Lehigh (17-15, 142) -- Friday, November 11, 7PM -- Cintas Center (FOX College)

Lehigh brings back four double-digit scorers from last year's team, led by senior big man Tim Kempton's 17.7/9.5/1.4. Leading perimeter scorer is senior guard Austin Price, who dropped 13 a game and shot 38.5% from deep. He'll be joined in the back court by PG Kahron Ross's 11.2/2.8/6.1 with a 34% assist rate and Kyle Leufroy's 44.1% mark from beyond the arc. Guard Brandon Alston returns from an injury that cost him all of the 2015-2016 season, and a pair of redshirt freshman forwards round out a solid and experienced group.

Lehigh loves to play fast when thing are going well for them. They move the ball and work for good shots from inside and outside the arc on the offensive end. They usually need big point totals, because their defenses have been largely poor under veteran head coach Brett Reed. Xavier will have to mind their P's and Q's on the defensive end; Cintas should be set for an explosive return to action after the long, quiet summer. For our full breakdown of Lehigh, click here.

Brad's pick: Win. I'd imagine the first ten minutes will be somewhat close before Xavier pulls away. This isn't as easy as the standard season opener, but it really shouldn't be a challenge.
Joel's pick: Win. The absences of Myles and Kaiser can't hold Xavier back in the opener.
Bryan's pick: Win. No team in the top 8 in the Big East would struggle here.
KenPom's take: 83-66 Xavier win; 94% chance of any Xavier win.

Buffalo (20-15, 110) -- Monday, November 14, 7:00PM -- Cintas Center (CBSSN)

Bobby Hurley put the Bulls on the basketball map before splitting for Arizona State, but head coach Nate Oats stepped in and kept the program rolling. Despite having the 2015 MAC POY dismissed from the team and the second-leading returning scorer instead follow Hurley west, Buffalo ripped off a 20-win campaign and earned a 14 seed in the NCAA tournament. They love to get up and down the court and shoot threes, but they don't distribute well and aren't particularly adept on the defensive end.

Coach Oats will have his work cut out for him again this year, as Lamonte Bearden - the team's leader in PPG, APG, and steals - left for WKU and 14.9 more PPG graduated in the form of Jarryn Skeete and Rodell Wigginton. Despite those losses, the Bulls bring back three double-digit scorers. Blake Hamilton and Willie Conner are both forwards who can score from all over, and CJ Massinburg is a 6'3" guard who led the team in ORtg last year. JuCo guard Dontay Caruthers and freshman shooter James Jones will add some depth in the back court for Buffalo. For our full breakdown of Buffalo, click here.

Brad's pick: Win. As one kid said "Buffalo is in the hundreds and we're in the tens." That kind of sums this one up. I'd like some secondary revenge on the Bulls for knocking Akron out in the MAC final last year.
Joel's pick: Win. Buffalo is a good mid-major, but Xavier has Final Four aspirations. X should get ahead and stay away here.
Bryan's pick: Win. Should not be a big issue to beat these guys, either.
KenPom's take: 85-69 win; 92% chance of any Xavier win.

Missouri (10-21, 165) -- Thursday, November 17, 1PM -- ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, Orlando, FL (ESPN U)

Xavier opens the Puerto Rico Tip-off against Missouri Kim Anderson has not been an immediate boon as a head coach, and he has his work cut out for him this year. A team that goes 10-21 is probably no stranger to deficiencies, and it's true in this case. The Tigers' defense was just a tick above mediocre last year, but it shone in comparison to their offense. They simply weren't very good at shooting, which made scoring a bit of a problem. Team leader in ORtg Ryan Roburg graduated, and a couple of high-usage, low-efficiency guards departed for other schools.

Coming back is F Kevin Puryear, who dropped 11.5/4.6/0.4 as a freshman. He's joined by 5'11" guard Terrense Phillips, who posted a 7.8/4.2/3.5 line and added 2.8 steals per game. Also coming back will be KJ Walton and his 36.7% success rate from deep and Cullen VanLear, who led the team in scoring during their summer tour in Italy. Freshmen and Cleveland natives Willie Jackson - a 6'6" forward with an appetite for the glass - and Frankie Hughes - a 6'4" jump shooter - will be expected to step in and help shore things up right away. For our full breakdown of Missouri, click here.

Brad's pick: Win. A 3-0 start here. This is the first time the team leaves the friendly confines of the Cintas Center, but that really shouldn't matter against this team.
Joel's pick: Win. Remember when Missouri used to be good? They aren’t right now.
Bryan's pick: Win. I think Kim Anderson is probably a really nice dude, but he doesn't have the horses to play with X.
KenPom's take: 81-66 win; 91% chance of any Xavier win.

Puerto Rico Tip-off Games 2 and 3 -- Friday, November 18 and Sunday, November 20, times TBD -- ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, Orlando, FL (ESPN networks)

Xavier's second game in Orlando will be against either Clemson or Davidson. Clemson bring back forward Jaron Blossomgame, a moster forward who was good for 18.7/6.7/1.5 on .513/.446/.782 last year. They play a slow tempo and don't give away possessions with turnovers, but their defense isn't anything special. Davidson lives to get up and down the floor and chuck threes. They don't defend or rebound, but almost half of their shots come from beyond the arc, and their offense was 31st in the nation in adjusted efficiency last year. Gunner Jack Gibbs and his 23.5/4.1/4.9 return to lead the line for head coach Bob McKillop.

Coming from the other side of the bracket to face Xavier at some point will be one of Oklahoma, Tulane, UNI, and Arizona State. Bobby Hurley has a young but talented ASU moving in the right direction and brings back his leading scorer from last year in G Tra Holder. Oklahoma lost three of their top four scorers from last year, but Jordan Woodard and his 45.5% rate from deep and Khadeem Lattin and his defensive prowess in the lane are not to be scoffed at. For more info on UNI, scroll down. If Xavier ends up playing Tulane, something strange has gone on. For our full breakdown of the rest of the bracket in Orlando, click here.

Brad's pick: 2-0. These things can get all kinds of stupid, but Xavier figures to see Clemson in the second round here. The Tigers are probably the second best team in Orlando and feature Jaron Blossomgame, who can flat out score. Call me naively optimistic, but I think Xavier can neutralize him with outside length and win this thing. They could also revert to holiday form, but here's hoping against that.
Joel's pick: Xavier broke the Thanksgiving curse last year, but this isn’t Thanksgiving. I think Blossomgame goes off and Xavier goes 1-1 in games 2 and 3.
Bryan's pick: 2-0. Last season, we looked at the matchups we thought would happen and picked based on those. X was the only team to show up and meet expectations, and I think it will be a similar case this year.
KenPom doesn’t have an opinion on this one.

Northern Iowa (23-13, 82) -- Saturday, November 26, 12:00PM -- Cintas Center (FOX Sports TBD)

Never let it be said that Joel D promised more info on UNI and then didn't deliver. The Panthers play good, clean ball under coach Ben Jacobson. His offenses protect possession and play slowly but efficiently, though they are occasionally literally the worst in the nation on the offensive glass. On defense, they don't do anything flashy, but they also don't foul much and don't give up a lot of second chances. His 220-117 record speaks to how effective his style is.

Three of the top four scorers left in the form(s) of Wes Washpun, Matt Bohannon, and Paul Jesperson, leaving quite a gap in the ranks of a team that wasn't that deep. Returning is senior Jeremy Morgan, the team's best rebounder and possessor of a handsome 118.3 ORtg. He'll need to step up for the Panthers this year. Also back is flex forward Klint Carlson, a solid piece who will get his chance to develop into something more than that. Three redshirt freshman - scoring guard Spencer Haldeman and big men Luke McDonnell and Justin Dahl - will join JuCo shooter Hunter Rhodes to fill in for the departing greats. For our full breakdown of UNI, click here.

Brad's pick: Win. At some point picking wins starts become an exercise in looking for the first likely loss. This isn't it.
Joel's pick: Win. This is a good a time as any to catch UNI, as they’re cycling down from losing three really good players.
Bryan's pick: Win. The Panthers are going to surprise people who write them off after last year's collapse, but if X doesn't, they have the guns to win.
KenPom's take: 76-63 win; 88% chance of any Xavier win.

North Dakota State (20-13, 96) -- Tuesday, November 29, 6:30PM -- Cintas Center (FS1)

NDSU is one of those teams you don't really think of a lot until you're watching them win their conference tournament and remembering that you watched them do the same thing last year. At least, that's my impression of them. They play slowly on offense and don't turn the ball over, but they can't board and are only a middling shooting team. Defensively, they smothered teams into a 47.7% EFG% last year and were dominant on the defensive glass. Opponents were not effective at all in scoring from deep against the Bison.

Small forward Kory Brown took 10.4 PPG with him when he graduated, but the Bison bring back three really efficient scorers in wings AJ Jacobson and Dexter Werner and shooting guard Paul Miller, who led the team in scoring with 15.3/4.8/1.8 last year. Along with Werner, PG Khy Kabellis and SG and defensive ace Carlin Dupree give North Dakota State a trio of returning players who averaged between 8 and 9 PPG last year. Incoming freshmen include Jared Samuelson, Nebraska's Mr. Basketball and a good three-point shooter, and Tyson Ward, a 6'6" guard with a reputation for defensive prowess. For our full breakdown of NDSU, click here.

Brad's pick: Win. This isn’t the first loss, either.
Joel's pick: Win. There’s a reason you don’t hear of North Dakota State before Championship Week.
Bryan's pick: Win. The Bison are have a good shot at an auto bid, but will be punching above their weight here.
KenPom's take: 78-64 win; 90% chance of any Xavier win.

Let’s leave it right there for now; we don’t want more reading than you can process in a single bathroom break. Take a deep breath for now, and we’ll be back later on today with part 2.