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Xavier basketball 2016 season preview, part 2

Xavier gets warmed up in the first half of non-con. Now things get real.

NCAA Basketball Tournament - Xavier v Baylor
Let’s hope it goes better this time.

If you missed the first part of our run through the non-conference schedule, go ahead and click back and read it. Barring the unprecedented, this piece will still be waiting for you when you get back.

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.

Baylor (22-12, 25) -- Saturday, December 3, 3:30pm -- Ferrell Center, Waco, TX (ESPN2)

A lot of rebounding-related skill left Baylor over the summer, with Rico Gathers - who rebounded at a high level - and Taurean Prince - who explained the concept to journalists at an elite level - both leaving and taking more than 26 PPG with them. PG Lester Medford dished out 6.5 APG, but he's also gone. Returning guard Al Freeman and forward Jonathan Motley both averaged 11 PPG, and 6'5", 235-pound G Ishmail Wainwright was the only Bear to hit more than 40% of his attempts from deep. Those guys will be joined by ESPN100 wing Mark Vital and a couple of other interesting incoming players.

Head coach Scott Drew does well on offense thanks in large part to a commitment to the offensive glass. The team might miss two or three times in a possession, but that can be remedied by being able to shoot until you hit. Their defenses have generally been less impressive. They do the flashy things like hawk steals and block shots, but teams with good ball movement and/or good offensive rebounding can find baskets against Baylor. For our full breakdown of Baylor, click here.

Brad's pick: Loss. This is the Musketeers first true road game and it lands them against an established post man in Jonathan Motley. We'll learn how far Gaston, O'Mara, and Jones have come in this game. I suspect it won't be far enough.
Joel's pick: Loss. This is the kind of game Xavier would have won last year by dominating the glass. I don’t know that they have it like that this year.
Bryan's pick: Win. This is a really tight one, but X brings back a lot more from last year than Baylor does and I think the Bears will still be finding their feet.
KenPom's take: 74-73 loss; 46% chance of any Xavier win.

Colorado (22-12, 56) -- Wednesday, December 7, 9:00pm -- Coors Event Center, Boulder, CO (PAC-12 Network)

It begins on defense for Colorado, as they're routinely in the top 50 under coach Tad Boyle. They chase down shooters and prioritize forcing tough shots and sealing the glass over trying to force turnovers. They've got a big piece to replace from the departure of center Josh Scott, as he was a dominant rebounder and in the top 100 in the nation in ORtg while playing nearly three-fourths of the available minutes. Aside for his departure, the only other loss for the Buffs was reserve guard Xavier Talton.

Coming back are some good pieces. Wesley Gordon is a 6'9" F who is a dominant rebounder and efficient scorer, and wing George King brings back 13.6 PPG and a 45.6% mark from behind the arc. PG Dom Collier also jarred nearly 45% of his threes, and forward Josh Fortune and Tre'Shaun Fletcher bring back 17.4 PPG on some really bad shooting. A potential curveball here is the fact that this game will be played in Colorado, where the Buffalo(s) traditionally dominate thanks to a solid home crowd and diminished atmospheric pressure. For our full breakdown of Colorado, click here.

Brad's pick: Win. I don't feel good about this pick. The Buffaloes can shoot from deep and have an established post man with legitimate game. This feels like one of those games where Coach Mack just refuses to be beaten and his team rises to it.
Joel's pick: Loss. I think the combination of thin air and Colorado's shooting is too much for X by a hair.
Bryan's pick: Win. The Buffs are another team that I think will give us a lot of trouble, I just keep seeing X's top level talent finding a way.
KenPom's take: 75-73 win, 57% chance of any Xavier win.

Utah (27-9, 57) -- Saturday, December 10, 5:30pm -- Cintas Center (FOX)

Brace yourselves, Utah fans. Also, thanks for visiting our site! Utah went 27-9 last year but lost big man Jakob Poetl to the draft. He was an All-American behind a 17.2/9.1/1.6 line and 65% shooting from the floor. Also gone are shooter Jordan Loveridge and his 11.6 PPG on 40.4% shooting from deep and PG Brandon Taylor, who put up 9.7/2.3/3.9 and 1.7 steals. Those guys were the team's top 3 in minutes as well. Returning are guard Lorenzo Bonam and forward Kyle Kuzma, a pair of efficient scorers who each averaged 10+ PPG and will need to step up into the gap.

Running the show for Utah is Larry Krystowiak. He loves to play slowly and runs an efficient offense and a stingy if not flashy defense. He'll be adding four-star, 6'11" center Jayce Johnson from a redshirt season and 6'10" center Tyler Rawson from the JuCo ranks to try to replace Poetl. JuCo guard Jojo Zamora can distribute and is a capable shooter, and Parker Van Dyke returns from an LDS mission to jump back into the back court as a 22-year-old sophomore. Replacing the missing pieces won't be easy, but Utah has the personnel to compete again. For our full breakdown of Utah, click here.

Brad's pick: Win. On the road this one would be a real concern, but I think the Musketeers take it at home as a birthday present to my oldest daughter. Or possibly just because they are the better team.
Joel's pick: Win. Xavier is tough to beat at Cintas. Utah is a good team, but they won't be a force this year like they were last year.
Bryan's pick: Win. There is nary a program in the nation that could lose the production the Utes did and keep ticking over.
KenPom's take: 77-67 win; 80% chance of any Xavier win.

Wake Forest (11-20, 76) -- Saturday, December 17, 8:00pm -- Cintas Center (FS1)

Danny Manning has Wake playing fast, which is cool in that it's entertaining but bad in that they're not particularly good at it. They can score points in bunches, but they're also prone to turnovers and taking bad shots, much as you'd expect from a mediocre team in a hurry. Their defense relies on locking down the boards to even rise to the level of average. They don't force turnovers, don't contest the arc well, and can be scored on from two-point range as well. Losing Devin Thomas's 15.6/10.2/2.4 and the team-leading assist rate of PG Codi Miller-McIntyre won't help.

Returning 6'10" forward Konstantinos Mitoglou and John Collins are the big keys for Wake this year. Mitoglou is a good rebounder and solid scorer who apparently fancies himself just a bit more of a shooter than he actually is. Collins is an efficient scorer and boards well, but he fouls at an alarming rate. Wake also brings back 20 PPG of back court scoring in inefficient gunner Bryant Crawford and steady reserve Mitchell Wilbekin. Keep an eye on 7' center Doral Moore as a potential breakout candidate for the Demon Deacons. For our full breakdown of Wake Forest, click here.

Brad's pick: Win. The Demon Deacons are on the rise and may finally be rebounding back to the team they were when they decided to fire Dino Gaudio. They aren't as good as X, though.
Joel's pick: Win. Danny Manning still has a lot of work in front of him to get Wake to contend in a tough conference.
Bryan's pick: Win. This was a close call at Wake last year, but I don't see it as close this time around.
KenPom's take: 84-71 win; 88% chance of any Xavier win.

Eastern Washington (18-16, 250) -- Tuesday, December 20, 6:30pm -- Cintas Center (FS1)

There's no real way around the fact that Eastern Washington was brought in to bridge the gap between finals week and Christmas with an easy win for Xavier. Coach Jim Hayford has consistently had them in the bottom 100 in defensive efficiency behind not rebounding, not forcing bad shots or turnovers, and not defending the glass very well. They're actually pretty good on offense, chucking from deep on nearly half their shots and basically daring the opponent to be able to match them on the other end. Most opponents can.

Remember how much Utah lost? EWU may have it worse. Austin McBroom dropped 21 PPG on .434/.402/.832 shooting with an ORtg of 114 and a usage rate of 27%. Venky Jois was good for 16.4/8.7/2.5 and hit 68% of his field goal attempts; he was also a good shot blocker, never fouled, and played 33 minutes per game. Both guys are gone. Returning are wings Felix von Hofe and Bogdan Bliznyuk, who basically split 25 PPG last year. Bliznyuk is a better rebounder, von Hofe shot 42.3% from beyond the arc. Losing 37 PPG from a team that wasn't that good to begin with stings; EWU should be a walk-over for Xavier. For our full breakdown of EWU, click here.

Brad's pick: Win. Cupcake.
Joel's pick: Win. A good rule of thumb is that if they'd scare Georgetown in March, Xavier should beat them in December.
Bryan's pick: Win. This is easily the worst team Xavier will play this season. Dropping this game would spell disaster.
KenPom's take: 90-66 win; 98% chance of any Xavier win.

Cincinnati (22-11, 28) -- Thursday, January 26, 7:00pm -- Fifth Third Arena, Cincinnati, OH (ESPN2)

How much do you even need to be told here? Mick Cronin is still in charge, having turned down the chance to flee to UNLV over the summer. He's still going to play slow, brutal basketball based around defense. They'll force turnovers and challenge shots but occasionally surrender the glass. Offense will be spotty at best. UC lost its best shooter from last year in Farad Cobb, who averaged 10.7 PPG and hit 39% from deep. In Octavius Ellis, they lost a solid rebounder who seemed to spend a lot of time with the ball in his hands on offense. His shot-blocking efforts were usually highlight material, particularly during the Crosstown Shootout.

Returning is Troy Caupain, a volume shooter who got 13.0/3.8/4.8 on a shooting line of .375/.324/.788 last year. Also back is F Gary Clark, a complete monster of a forward who rode a relentless motor and a surprisingly effective mid-range game to 10.8/8.8/2.1 last year. NC State transfer F Kyle Washington will add some versatile scoring to the front line, and freshman SG Jarron Cumberland is so good that Xavier recruited him for a while before dropping out when Quentin Goodin signed. He's got a good jumper and a bully's body. For our full breakdown of Cincinnati, click here.

Brad's pick: Win. I know it's away and I know that UC is going to be good this year, but I don't think Saint Mick has the mental toughness to win this game. A large part of me wants Myles Davis to be back in uniform and driving the nails in this one.
Joel's pick: Win. These programs are trending in opposite directions.
Bryan's pick: Win. Cronin and Mack are rivals in much the same way that individual bad guys and Walker: Texas Ranger are.
KenPom's take: 70-69 loss; 46% chance of any Xavier win.