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Xavier v. Jacksonville: Preview of OPENING NIGHT!

Basketball is finally back.

NCAA Basketball: Villanova at Xavier
Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

Baseball season ended poorly. Our team won 96 games, missed the playoffs, and is likely to sell off the homegrown, fan and media darling, ubertalented shortstop. The Reds... also played, I think. Football is off to an awful start for all of Ohio. The Bengals are actually very successfully Tanking for Tua while the Browns went from Super Bowl contender to 2-6 and a quarter back who just did a press conference looking like every medic who has seen too much in a World War II movie.

Enter Xavier. Like the proverbial knight on the white horse, Xavier rides to the rescue early every November. Since the start of this millennium, the Musketeers have missed the NCAA tournament just three times. To my children, they are the constant, the always contender, the one team that you can bank on with utter certainty. Come March; come Xavier. To me, they are the sun through the clouds, a light in the dark. When the Indians lost, horrifically, in 2016 in circumstances that still cause my eyes to water, Xavier stormed in and Malcolm Bernard sprinted into the Elite Eight. These guys are the Gods of the Winter and now they are back.


Team Fingerprint:

Jacksonville has been playing for Tony Jasick for five years now. The most games they have won in that time is 17. On offense they have changed tack in the last couple years. In the 2017 season the Dolphins were 34th in the nation in three point attempt percentage. (Amount of their shots that were threes). In the last two seasons, the Dolphins were 326th and 318th in that measure. They have changed from a team that heaves away to a team that very rarely shoots from deep. When they do shoot the three, they don’t make it often. 31% to be exact.

On defense, Jacksonville wants to block shots. They did that well last year thanks to Jalyn Hinton, but he’s gone now. Beyond that, the Dolphins tried to take away the three point shot and force teams to beat them inside. While they did succeed in keeping teams from taking many threes, 49th in the nation in 3PA%, they only parlayed that into being the 216th most efficient defense in college basketball.

Usually here is where we would get into the nuts and bolts of how each player involved has played this season. For reasons that I hope are very apparent, that’s not going to be possible before tonight’s contest.

Three questions:

- Who Plays? We know the Core Four are going to see time, though it is possible that Tyrique Jones is limited, but not seriously. Who plays after that? Is Kyky Tandy healthy and good to go? Will Dieonte Miles and Zach Freemantle see significant time in the post? Where does former big fish Jason Carter fit in the pecking order? There’s no way of knowing any of this until the game starts.

- Will Xavier start better this season? It’s not breaking news that Xavier started last season poorly. Beating IUPUI by 13 and scoring 1.09 points per possession against a team that later got crushed by NKU wasn’t an auspicious omen. The Musketeers have a chance to correct that tonight and in doing so send a message that this season will be different.

- Where is the defense? Travis Steels says that this team can be top 25 in defensive efficiency this season. He also said that last year’s team that finished 102nd was going to be good. The Musketeers let IUPUI score 69 and then Evansville get 85 to start last season. An elite defense won’t let the same thing happen against Jacksonville tonight.

Three Keys:

- Stay healthy: Just don’t get hurt. Jacksonville isn’t good, Xavier can play badly and still win. What Xavier can’t do is sustain a serious injury. Win the game, don’t get hurt.

- Blood the newcomers: No one, not even Jason Carter, has played somewhere like the Cintas once the crowd gets...barking? (I don’t get that one). It’s going to be an adjustment for these guys to suddenly be playing in front of one of the best home crowds in the nation. Get them out there, get them some reps.

- Celebrate: Basketball is back. I’m excited. Joel and Bry are excited. You should be excited. We’ll be here all season, sometimes excited, sometimes angry, sometimes both. Tonight though, we just celebrate basketball being back.