Basketball season is finally back upon us. This summer Xavier lost a coach and got a new, lost big name recruits, and landed big name transfers. The Reds were horrible, the Indians choked (again), the Buckeyes have already lost their obligatory game against a bad team, and professional football in Ohio is mostly a rumor. That leads us back to the loving arms of college basketball and the Xavier Musketeers. To get the low down on every player and every upcoming game, check our Season Preview section.
Xavier’s first game is against IUPUI. In much the same way you don’t cold start your car and immediately attempt to go 150 miles an hour, Xavier is warming up the engine before the big games arrive. Those games are coming, too. Wisconsin is in a week, and Auburn only six days after that. Before hitting freeway speeds though, come Jason Gardner and the IUPUI Jaguars.
Gardner’s last four IUPUI teams have played slowly and, most of the time, badly. None of those previous squads have finished over .500 and our preseason look at the Jags didn’t do a lot to suggest this was the one to break the streak. Last season, the Jaguars hit the offensive glass hard, good for 70th in the nation. IUPUI was decent (35.5%) behind the arc, but generally shot the ball poorly and turned it over too much.
Defensively, Gardner likes his teams to get after the ball. That means that behind the initial pressure, the Jags can be had to the tune of 323rd and 314th in the nation in eFG% defense the last two years. Last year, at least, that initial pressure was at times fearsome, forcing turnovers on 21.2% of opponents possessions.
We invite you to review our entry on IUPUI in our award-deserving Know Your Non-conference Opponent series.
In its exhibition win over Central State, IUPUI started 6’7” forwards Evan Hall and Elyjah Goss with guards Cam Justice, Grant Weatherford, and Trevor Johnson around them. Justice had 19 on 7-16 shooting and pitched in 5 assists while Hall had 10/12/4 on 4-7/0-0/2-2 shooting. I suspect they’ll find the sledding a bit tougher in Cintas.
Off the bench, guard Jaylen Minnett had 19 on 7/13/4-10/1-1 shooting a 7’1” center Ahmed Ismail poured home 18 and 8 on 8-8/0-0/2-3 shooting in just 19 minutes of play. Despite winning in a walkover, nobody else really impacted the game from the bench.
-Is Travis Steele ready? Steele stayed the course at Xavier as an assistant despite numerous offers of head coaching positions elsewhere in anticipation of this day. Now it has arrived and, despite all the preparation that has gotten him here, I have to imagine he’s a bit nervous. You never really know what you’ve got until you need it, and Coach Steele is about to start making decisions that matter in a way they haven’t before for him.
-Are the new guys ready? This is the first exposure half of Xavier’s roster has had to play at the high-major level. Kyle Castlin, Zach Hankins, and Ryan Welage all have some college ball under their belts, but Dontarius James and Keonte Kennedy are jumping into the deep end right from high school. It’s going to get tougher from here, but first-game jitters can’t be discounted.
-Is Quentin Goodin going to play? No, he is not. That shouldn’t matter here, it will matter down the line.
As games get rolling you’ll find our Three Keys section here in the preview. Right now, the main key is playing injury free and developing some chemistry. Finally, finally, finally, we can say that we’ll know a lot more after tonight. The first step toward getting the bitter taste from last year out of our collective mouth comes in just over eight hours.