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Know Your Non-Conference Opponent: The Charleston Classic second round

If Xavier can get past Towson, they’ll face a team trying to regain its feet.

UConn Huskies Vs Cincinnati Bearcats
Big East member UConn in action in a mid-major tournament last March.
Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images

I’m going to start this preview of the Charleston Classic second round with a bold prediction: I think Xavier is going to be good enough to beat Towson. I know that assumptions can come back to bite, but barring one of Xavier’s somewhat common early season swoons, they should see off the Tigers.

That leaves the field in Charleston opening up for the Musketeers. Again, assuming a couple of things we ten to know hold true, Xavier will play either Buffalo or UConn, and if they win that one, most likely either Florida or Miami. That’s four teams that the Musketeers will have a chance to meet while the rest of are smashing turkey and pie.

The first two teams are passing each other on the way to and from relevance. Buffalo upset Arizona two years ago and was a trendy pick to go a long way in the tournament this year. That they ran into the Texas Tech defensive buzzsaw hardly detracts from their season. UConn, on the other hand, lost to Houston in the AAC tournament and didn’t play a game after that. Their first year of rebuilding was a marginal success, but that’s not what the people in Storrs are used to.

Buffalo Bulls:

If you’ve followed college basketball recently, you’ve watched the Bulls make a meteoric ascent from 122nd in the KenPom to end the 2016-17 season, to 22nd last year. Buffalo scored 110 points or more three times last year. They scored fast, they scored a lot, and they scored efficiently right up until they hit Texas Tech in the NCAA tournament.

That’s exciting, right? A team on the rise, a coach that plays fast and attractive basketball, and a new name possibly on the calendar. The only hang up is Buffalo isn’t that team anymore. They lost five of their top seven players in minutes and their top three in usage rate. In short, they were completely gutted. Nate Oats also headed for the greener pastures of Alabama.

Jayvon Graves and Davonta Jordan return and are joined by Gabe Grant, a grad transfer who wasn’t a factor for Houston last year, and Antwain Johnson, who plowed that same furrow at MTSU. Five other new players join the remaining few at Buffalo, only juco transfer David Nickleberry is even a consensus three star recruit. If Buffalo’s rise was meteoric, they now more resemble a comet: appearing briefly and brightly before receding back into nothingness.

UConn

Following the opposite of the trajectory are the Huskies of Connecticut. As 2016 ended, they were 26th best team in the nation. Two years later they were 179th. A rebound into the top 100 last year was further bolstered when UConn announced it was leaving the mid-major conference it had been playing in to return to the Big East. This was a detriment to their college football program but, like right minded people everywhere, they cared not one bit.

Still, this team wasn’t very good at basketball last year, somehow contriving to go 6-12 in the AAC. Three of their top rotation players, including their usage leader Jalen Adams, are gone. Generally, taking the top talent off of an already stridently mediocre team isn’t the best way to make it better.

But this isn’t the usual situation. Dan Hurley is a good coach and, evidently, a great recruiter. Of the four players the Huskies add this year, three (Akok Akok, Jalen Gaffney, and James Bouknight) are ESPN top 100 recruits. Richard Springs is a 6-9 three star depth guy down low, the team’s most efficient offensive player is back, and Alterique Gilbert can fill it up if he’s healthy. This squad isn’t going 6-12 again, and they’ll return to national relevance next year with a year of AAC seasoning under their belt.