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Know Your Non-Conference Opponent: EKU

The Colonels are Xavier’s first opponent in the stretch that leads to the Big East.

NCAA Basketball: Eastern Kentucky at Louisville Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

The first thing to know about Eastern Kentucky University is that it is basically in the middle of Kentucky. Maybe Central Kentucky University was already taken or maybe the person who named it received his or her education in Kentucky. Either way, EKU is essentially directly south of Cincinnati on 75.

Last season the Colonels were 11-20, 286th in the KenPom, and genuinely awful. For example, they needed overtime to beat Jacksonville at home and somehow weren’t able to empty the bench against a very mediocre NAIA team in Asbury. On the plus side, they did go 5-13 in the OVC, which wasn’t bad enough for last. Following that, Dan McHale was fired and replaced by AW Hamilton.

Key departures:

Dillon Avare shot 39% behind the arc last season but graduated after that. EKU only shot 35% on three pointers last year, so he represents a significant loss. Jackson Davis has left the team on a medical disqualification. The Butler transfer had averaged 8.2 points per game last year before being sidelined by injury. Another eight point per game scorer in Asante Gist left for Iona. The Colonels most efficient player last year was Zach Charles, but he and his 5.9 points on 53% from the floor graduated. Dedric Boyd, the second leading scorer at 13.2 per contest, decamped to Illinois State. As if all that wasn’t enough, DeAndre Dishman, a 6-6 rebounding monster who averaged 11.7/6.2/1.1, headed for Middle Tennessee and the chance to play in games that matter. In short, the roster was gutted.

Key returnees:

Nick Mayo, Sr, 6-9, F (18.0/6.7/2.2 .526/.446/.839)
Dujuanta Weaver, Jr, 5-10, G (6.6/2.4/2.5 .346/.360/.867)
JacQuess Hobbs, So, 6-2, G (5.6/2.8/3.6 .319/.245/.744)

These aren’t the only three returning players, but they are the only ones who had a usage rate even approaching 15% last year. Mayo was the leading scorer and get buckets from anywhere. Weaver is a mediocre backup guard, and Hobbs shoots like he thinks he’s Mayo. Also returning is double digit minute guy Peyton Broughton. Beyond that, the cupboard Hamilton inherited was essentially bare.

Incoming players:

NC State transfer Darius Hicks was Hamilton’s big get this offseason, but he’s not eligible until next year. Joining him in not being able to play against Xavier is DeAndre “Pedro” Bradshaw, who can’t play until the second semester. Two star recruits Houston King and Jomaru Brown both are actually eligible to play this year. King is a combo guard who scored well enough in high school to be second team All-Ohio. Brown is a score first point guard. Tre King is an intriguing signing from Hargrave Military Academy. King is a 6-8 power forward who showed flashes at Hargrave of having top level skill and turned down objectively better offers to play for Hamilton (once his coach at Hargrave) again.

This team is very much in flux. Hamilton will want to play fast and attractive basketball, but his roster was gutted after last season and his two best recruits aren’t immediately eligible. This game looks to be a respite for a Xavier squad coming down off the Crosstown Shootout.