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Know your non-conference opponent: Lehigh

The last time these two teams faced off, Dee Davis was a freshman and the stakes couldn’t have been higher. Now the Mountain Hawks come into Cintas to open the season against a Xavier team with big plans for the year.

NCAA Basketball Tournament - Lehigh v Xavier
The last time these teams met
Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

With the schedule now fully together, it's time for us to start picking it apart. First up: the Lehigh Mountain Hawks.

Lehigh will be Xavier's season opener this year, and they're coming off an interesting campaign in their own right. They were dreadful through 20 games, sitting at 6-14 with losses to St. Francis (PA), Robert Morris, and Loyola (MD) on the resume. Then something flipped a switch, because they ripped off 11 consecutive victories before falling by a single basket to Holy Cross in the Patriot League Tournament final. Lehigh had the ball with 17 seconds to play and managed to go 0-4 on game-tying field goal attempts in a single possession. Not a great note to end on.

Coach/style:

Brett Reed will be beginning his tenth year at Lehigh this season, a tenure he has marked with two NCAA tournament appearances and no seed better than 15. His best years have been played at a high tempo, though it's not clear if those teams were good because they were fast or fast because they were good. He generally seems to like offenses to work quickly, move the ball, and eschew crashing the boards. Getting shots up from deep has not been a focus. Reed's defenses have been largely bad, conceding the arc without forcing turnovers or dominating the glass. They've managed to avoid sending opponents to the line, but that's of questionable value in light of how permissive they've been in other areas.

Departures:

Nobody with a high usage rate and big minutes, but the most important departure is forward Jesse Chuku. He had an ORtg of 113.4 and a game line of 9.6/5.5/1.3 on .432/.404/.814 shooting in 31.3 minutes per game. He was a solid flex forward for the Mountain Hawks. Gone too from the front line is Justin Goldsborough. He played 15 minutes per game en route to 3.3/3.3/0.3 on .535/.000/.484 shooting.

Guard John Ross Glover (1.7/1.2/0.3) also graduated (or at least exhausted his eligibility), and Tyler Jenkins took his 2.0/0.6/0.8 and 12 made threes in 31 games and sashayed on to Bellarmine.

Returnees:

Four double-digit scorers, including star forward Tim Kempton. Kempton is a 6'10" rising senior who carried the load for Lehigh, shooting .555/.313/.755 on his way to a game line of 17.7/9.5/1.4. His usage rate, DReb%, and fouls drawn per 40 minutes were all solidly in the top 50 nationally. His partner in not-crime is rising senior Austin Price, a 6'4" guard who was good for 13.0/3.4/2.3 on .414/.385/.706 shooting. He was a solid defender and drilled 69 threes in all competitions last year.

Distributing to all this returning firepower is 5'11" PG Kahron Ross. His line of 11.2/2.8/6.1 came with an assist rate of 34% and a shooting line of .444/.382/.694. He led the team in minutes and contributed solid defense as well. Rounding out the meaningful returnees is Kyle Leufroy. He's a 6'3" rising sophomore guard who performed very well on his debut, posting an EFG% of 52.2% on .448/.441/.808 shooting on his way to 10.6/4.0/1.6 per game. He was a bit turnover prone, which pulled down his efficiency, but Lehigh fans are rightly excited about his potential. The back court is also bolstered by Devon Carter, who got 15 minutes per game and put up 3.3/1.6/0.8 on .396/.333/.667 shooting last year.

Lehigh also had three guys miss last year due to injury. Brandon Alston is a 6'5" guard who put up 4.9 PPG as a freshman and shot 14-39 from deep before missing all of last season. Joining him are two guys who had to sit their freshman years. Matt Holba is a 6'7" forward who was first-team all-state as a senior in high school and comes in with a reputation as a dangerous shooter. Caleb Sedore is a 6'11" center who dropped a cool 22 and 14 as a senior. He has a strong post game and can knock down jumpers out to the arc if given time to set his feet.

Incoming players:

I'm going to call 6'10" center Jack Lieb the headliner here. He's a product of Brewster Academy and has a really nice skill set for a man his size. He has good shooting touch in the mid-range and can find moving teammates in the half court. He tends to get too fancy sometimes, and he will need to continue growing into his frame to be effective. Pat Andree is a 6'7" power forward out of a similar mold as a perimeter-oriented big man. He can shoot and handle well for a guy his size, but his paint game needs work.

Finally, Jordan Cohen is a 6'1" point guard from Hollywood who has come east looking for a chance to crack a rotation as a freshman. He has good individual skills but needs to continue to expand his game management and basketball IQ.

Outlook:

There's no question it's nice to bring back your top four players from last year, but there are real gaps in the ranks beyond that for Coach Reed and the Mountain Hawks. Injuries are rarely a positive indicator, but the combination of players returning to health and some interesting recruits should create solid competition for the available minutes. Xavier figures to be without Myles Davis and JP Macura for this game (and possibly beyond), so the Cintas opener isn't going to be the perfunctory win you've seen in years past.