In just a couple of weeks, basketball will tip off. Something that seemed like a background event during the interminable summer is suddenly right on top off us. After - God willing - breaking the ice against an Oakland team whose coach just tested positive for the coronavirus, Xavier will continue by hosting reigning MVC tournament champs Bradley.
Bradley staggered to the line in the regular season last year, losing 2 of their last 3 to finish 11-7 in conference and sit at 20-11 overall. Their resume consisted of a neutral site win against Kansas State and not much else, and they were probably cruising to a second-round conference tournament exit until Drake stunned favorite UNI. You can only beat the teams in front of you, and Bradley capitalized on that gift to run the table and snag the auto bid.
Head coach Brian Wardle was hired from Green Bay to turn Bradley into a program that didn't suck, as that is what it had been doing under the previous regime. He doesn't play a particularly compelling brand of ball, with a grinding tempo and just a single offense in the top half of the nation in five seasons. He has hung his hat on field goal percentage defense, putting his last three teams in the top 50 in EFG%. Despite that, a lack of forcing turnovers and inconsistent rebounding have led to less than stellar overall defensive results.
Bradley was led by a pair of senior guards who have both since moved on. Nate Kennelly was good for 12/4/3 and hit 88 threes at a 45% clip, and Darrell Brown dropped 16 per game and added almost 5 assists while providing excellent ball security. Gone too is bruising big man Koch Bar, who led the team in total rebounds and averaged 7 RPG, though he was a limited offensive threat.
The biggest name here is 6'4" guard Ville Tahvanainen, at 11 characters in his surname alone. A rising sophomore, he average 6.6 and 2.5 at hit almost 40% of his three-point attempts. The biggest returning contributions belong to 6'7" forward Elijah Childs. A senior this year, he dropped a cool 14.8 and 8.6, barely missing a step after he missed the middle portion of the year with a hand injury. He's not a threat from deep, but he's clever around the rim and boasts a deadly mid-range game.
Also returning is forward Ja'Shon Henry, an excellent rebounder at both ends who averaged 9.5 and 6.0 last year. Like Childs, he is solid from mid-range and around the rim but has no resume to speak of from beyond the arc. Also, he's from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Danya Kingsby is a 6'1" guard who rounds out the returning contributors. He averaged 7.2/2.8/2.1 but shot under 40% from the floor and didn't do a whole lot else.
Ari Boya is a 7'1" center who was a good rebounder on both ends and blocked a ton of shots, but he didn't get a ton of run and has a scoring range of about half his height.
The Braves add guard Terry Nolan, Jr., late of George Washington, where he averaged 10/4/2 and started 51 games over two seasons. In his sophomore year, he hit 35% from behind the arc. Also coming on is Eastern Michigan transfer Kevin McAdoo, who posted 8.6 PPG as a sophomore and is more of a volume scorer. Both of these guys just completed their sit-out years at Bradley and thus already have a season in the system.
Bradley has lost seven guards over the past two seasons; bringing in Nolan and McAdoo was insurance against that being a crippling blow. If those two can settle in well, this team has enough retiring talent to be a second-tier threat in the MVC. If they can't, it's going to be a long road for the Braves. They made a good run in the conference tournament last season before the pandemic robbed them of the lone game they were likely to get in the NCAA tournament. You wouldn't fancy them to have the same shot this year.