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Know Your Non-conference Opponent: Toledo

For the purposes of this post, we will continue under the assumption that the season will actually be played.

NCAA Basketball: Toledo at Buffalo
One of these guys has Toledo written right on him.
Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

By the time you read this, Thanksgiving will be less than two weeks away. The holiday is going to look a lot different for many of us - myself included - than it has in years past. I'm going to ignore all that and instead focus on the basketball that (I'm dearly hoping) will be played that weekend.

Xavier will host Toledo as the final opponent in the MTE at Cintas over Thanksgiving. Like X, the Rockets had an up and down year last year. They started 8-2 - albeit against a fairly unimpressive slate - before completely decompensating through the middle of the year. A 3-11 slide left them underwater in mid-February, though they rebounded nicely to win 5 of 6 down the stretch before the coronavirus brought the curtain down somewhat abruptly.

Tod Kowalczyk, like Bradley head coach Brian Wardle, cut his teeth in the top seat at Green Bay. He came over to Toledo in 2010 after back-to-back CBI appearances at Green Bay. Toledo was an absolutely incredible 3-28 his first season, but they've since improved dramatically, even winning a pair of NIT bids under Kowalczyk. When Kowalczyk teams are going well, they chuck a ton of threes and dominate the defensive glass. His defenses have a tendency to smother the arc when things are clicking.

Key departures

Big man Like Knapke averaged 13 and 8 as a senior last year. Despite being 6'11", he took more than a third of his shots from deep. He made almost 40% of them, so I guess get it how you live, big fella. Also gone is forward Willie Jackson, who averaged 12 and 12. The dude absolutely crushed the glass at both ends.

Guard Dylan Alderson averaged 5 PPG last year, but he transfered down to NAIA DII Indiana Wesleyan to finish his career.

Key returnees

Rising senior guard Marreon Jackson was the lynchpin of the attack for the Rockets, dropping a game line of 19.8/4.3/5.4 and throwing in 1.5 SPG for grins. He also shot a staggering 97-259 (37.5%) from beyond the arc. Guard Spencer Littleson, also a rising senior, was almost as prolific, hitting on 62-159 from deep and averaging 10.5 PPG. Littleson even bettered Jackson with 1.7 SPG on a 2.7% steal%.

Keshaun Saunders is a 6'5" wing returning for his sophomore year. He shot 38.5% on 109 attempts from three, but his ball security was miserable and he wasn't meaningfully better from inside the arc than beyond it. If he can up his efficiency, he'll have plenty of chances to post big numbers.

Incoming players

Seth Millner is a JuCo transfer out of NW Florida State, where he averaged 14.4 PPG on a .413/.258/.800 shooting line. He's a bit of a volume scorer and a solid rebounder for a guard. Joining him from the JuCo ranks is 6'9" forward Jonathan Komagum. He near as makes no difference averaged a double-double last year and should help shore up the boards for Toledo.

Also possibly in the mix is stretch four JT Shumate. He's a Walsh transfer who shot 40% from three on 260 attempts in two years there. He applied for immediate eligibility, got rejected, and was the subject of great hur and cry. I haven't seen an update on it since, but Bart Torvik has him listed as playing, so I figured you should at least be aware of his existence. I'm sure they'll review his case when they're done looking at Ben Stanley's.

Outlook

Toledo is going to lean heavily on the leadership and output of Jackson and Littleson. The top priority of the team has to be finding a third option to help carry the load. Even if one emerges, this is a potentially top heavy roster that is going to be cobbling together depth on the fly. In a weird season with an often compressed schedule, that isn't a recipe for success.