Ever since news broke that the NCAA was limiting teams to 27 games this year if they participated in a multi-team event and 25 games if they did not, it has been clear that Xavier (and every other program in the nation, basically) was going to have to do some schedule shuffling to make that work. With just over a month to go until the season begins, some of the pieces have fallen into place for fans to get an idea of what the slate will look like for X.
Before we jump into this, I think it's important to keep in mind what the goal is with the schedule changes. In a regular year, the question for scheduling is usually something like "What gives my team the best chance of making the NCAA tournament?" This year, the question may well be "What gives my team the best chance of completing the schedule without a positive Covid test?"
With that in mind, I think it becomes more clear why Xavier dropped out of the Orlando Invitational. While that tournament would have been awesome, it also would have drastically increased the exposure level of the team. Travel and lodging for not only Xavier but also seven other schools from all over the country leaves a lot of gaps for something to slip through. You don't have to look far to find examples from the world of sports where similar things are happening. The event also couldn't guarantee that other teams wouldn't back out, leaving Xavier to play something like Tulane or ECU. No thank you.
To replace those games, Xavier will host its own MTE at Cintas on November 25-27. This will feature Bradley (#114 in the preseason Torvik rankings), Toledo (#166), and Oakland (#274). Xavier will get the opportunity to play warmup games of various levels to blood in the new guys quickly while having the advantage of not leaving the comforts of home. Other than Oakland, at the very least these games seeem to be manageable without being potential resume poison.
We also know that Xavier will be playing the Shootout at UC on December 6th and hosting Oklahoma on December 9th. Couple that with a 20-game double round-robin in the Big East beginning mid-December and Xavier is up to 25 games currently locked in.
So what does that leave Xavier to do with the other two? Obviously they could leave them open, but I doubt that will end up being the case. There's an empty week between the MTE and the Shootout that I suspect will end up holding a game or two.
With every Big East team bar Georgetown sitting in the top 100 in the preseason Torvik rankings, Xavier figures to pick up 18 or so games in quads 1 and 2 during conference play. Couple that with a roadie at UC that should be in Q1 and hosting a competitive Oklahoma team that should be near the line between Q1 and Q2 and Xavier doesn't need more resume opportunities on the schedule.
What they do need is to make sure things keep ticking over. One positive test could mean a 14-day break in the season, which would really derail the campaign. If Xavier pick up a game against a decent local team or two (Wright State is #122 in the preseason Torvik; NKU is #188), they can piece together a serviceable early season without leaving the city until conference play begins.
Leaving Orlando definitely lowered the potential ceiling on the schedule, but it also raised the floor. It's going to take everything going right for X to get 27 games in this year, and staying local makes sure fewer things can go wrong. Seven months after this thing cost us the NCAA tournament that Xavier was definitely going to make, we're still putting stuff together on the fly. I think the Muskies have done a pretty good job setting themselves up for success.