The national tradition that is Xavier basketball on Thanksgiving comes to an end this year. There will be some men giving each other brain injuries for your entertainment, but all of your Xavier watching enjoyment comes the week before at the Charleston Classic. The Musketeers start the tournament with Towson, then hopefully move on to face the winner of UConn and Buffalo. Win that game, and Xavier has the chance to grab a very solid neutral site win.
Assumptions must obviously be made, given I cannot see into the future, but it’s most likely that Xavier would face either Florida or Miami with the Charleston Classic on the line. Miami had a down year last season, but that comes after three straight trips to the NCAA tournament, Florida did not have a down year and won a game in the tournament before losing to Michigan.
The Hurricanes were 14-18 last year, but that record is a bit deceptive. The team was 75th in the KenPom and lost six games by five or fewer points. Unlike most Jim Larranaga teams, they were dreadful on defense, finishing 104th in the nation, their worst ranking since 2011. They ended with a whimper in a 15 point loss to Virginia Tech.
All respect to Jared Ridder, though, Miami doesn’t figure to be bad enough this year to lose to the Missouri State Bears. That’s especially true given that Chris Lykes, the Hurricanes leading scorer and assist man, returns for his junior year. Lykes, for what it is worth, stands only 5-7. Dejan Vasiljevic, a 92% free throw shooter and 11.8 PPG scorer, also returns, as do Sam Waardenburg and Anthony Mack, both of whom averaged 15 minutes per game last year.
They will have their hands full replacing the production of Anthony Lawrence, Zach Johnson, and Ebuka Izundu, who combined to average 35 points and 18 rebounds per contest last year. Joining the returning players in attempting to make up that production are three four star recruits in Anthony Walker III, Isaiah Wong, and Harlond Beverly. Wong and Beverly are ESPN top 100 recruits at the guard spots, which makes Miami loaded on the outside.
The Gators were good last year, and it’s not a stretch to say they will be better this year. Last season Florida lost two rotation players to injury for parts of the season, started three freshman at least 20 games, and started 3-3 before ending up the 26th best team in the nation before eventually dumping out in the second round.
This season all three of those freshman, Noah Locke, Andrew Nembhard, and Keyontae Johnson return. All of them shot at least 35% behind the arc and had offensive ratings of at least 105. Gorjok Gak also brings his tantalizing potential, and 7-4 wingspan, back after recovering from knee surgery last year.
The Gators did lose something as well, though. Specifically, they lost their number one scorer from last year, KeVaughan Allen. Allen scored 11.8 per game and used the ball more than any other rotation player on the team. Defensively he set the tone with almost two steals per game. Kevarrius Hayes, top 15 in the nation in EFG and TSO and a top 70 offensive rebounder, also moves on.
Replacing them are three ESPN top 100 recruits, led by Scottie Lewis a McDonald’s All American swingman and ESPN’s 10th ranked recruit in the nation. Tre Mann, the 7th ranked point guard and another McDonald’s All American, and four star center Omar Payne are the other centerpieces of this recruiting class. Jason Jitoboh is only a four star recruit at 6-10, 270. Two other less heralded freshman round out the class. Florida looks to be absolutely loaded this year and enter the Classic as the prohibitive favorite.