The beginning of the season is just around the corner, but before you know it Big East play will be tipping off. The last non-conference opponent of the season for Xavier will be the Morehead State Eagles. The Muskies will host them at Cintas to cap a non-conference slate of 11 games, 8 of which will be in the friendly confines of home and only 1 of which will be a true roadie. After way too long without basketball in front of fans at the Cintas Center, the Xavier faithful will be faced with a deluge of it in the next month.
Morehead charged from a long way back to win the OVC tournament and its concomitant automatic bid last year. After starting 4-6 (including a home loss to KenPom 323 SIU Edwardsville), they closed by winning 19 of 20, avenging their only loss by knocking off Belmont in the OVC tournament championship game. They played West Virginia close enough to keep it semi-interesting in their first round game, but the Mountaineers ended the game as a contest with an 11-0 run over the course of just 5 possessions with just over 10 minutes left.
Preston Spradlin is the head man at Morehead. A Pikeville, Ky native (a fact that I recognize is interesting only to other people from Pikeville and people who played in the Mid-South Conference), Spradlin graduated Alice Lloyd College in 2009, immediately joined John Calipari’s staff at UK, and came over to Morehead State in 2014 as an assistant. He took over the head role in 2016 when Sean Woods resigned amid a hail of allegations of misconduct. He’ll celebrate his 35th birthday this December.
It’s hard to pin down a play style for Spradlin. His teams have generally played slowly, protected the ball, and rebounded poorly. Last year, they turned the ball over like it was coated in thumbtacks but got to the offensive glass at a borderline elite rate. They have consistently not shot a ton of threes, though last year they hit at a respectable 35% clip. Defensively, they don’t force a lot of turnovers but protect the lane well. Defensive rebounding was a strength last year, but they’d stand there and let you shoot threes forever.
Shooting guard DeVon Cooper posted a 12.5/5.0/2.4 line and was second on the team with 47 made threes. He led the team in minutes percentage, which obviously leaves a big hole to fill as he heads to George Mason. Big wing James Baker did a little bit of everything for the team (except pass, apparently) on his way to 7.7/4.4/0.9 per game last year. He transferred to UNC Wilmington as a grad student to finish out his eligibility. Peripatetic guard KJ Hunt has joined his 4th roster in 5 years of collegiate play, heading out to Denver after leading MSU in assist rate on his way to 6.9/2.2/3.1.
Johni Broome! The 6’10” forward averaged 13.7/9.0/0.7 with 1.9 blocks per game as a freshman. He shot 48% from mid-range last year in addition to dominating in the post, crushes the glass at both ends, and does an excellent job of protecting the rim without getting in too much foul trouble. He and I attempted the same amount of D1 threes last year. He’s very good at basketball.
Skyelar Potter is a shooting guard who shoots it really well. He stuck 57 threes at a 38% clip last year and is also an accomplished slasher, taking a third of his shots at the rim. He averaged 11.9/5.8/1.1 and was second on the team in rebounds despite being just 6’3”. Joining him in the backcourt is last season’s assist leader, Ta’lon Cooper. He was good for 8.3/2.1/3.6 per game and shot 38% from deep. Like most of his teammates, he had a little bit of a turnover problem.
Though he didn’t play at all last year due to a knee injury, forward Tyzhaun Claude is a valuable returning piece after he posted 9.5 and 6.4 as a freshman. At 6’8”, 235, he’s a big body who cleans the glass at both ends and scores effectively in the post. He’s a career 48% free throw shooter.
Hopkinsville, Ky’s own Tray Hollowell dropped 11.1/3.6/2.0 at Wofford last year. He has hit 167 threes in his career at a 36.8% success rate; he’ll join the team as a grad transfer. He doesn’t boast impressive ball distribution or rebounding rates, but he’s a 6’3” guard who can eat minutes and return decent production.
Also joining via transfer is 6’5” guard Jaylon Hall, late of Wright State. He put up 9.4/2.5/2.4 and had the best shooting performance of his career, knocking down 34 of 77 threes (44.2%). He is not much of a rebounder and turns the ball over a ton.
Morehead State closed hard last season and - despite losing some key pieces - has an intriguing level of returning talent this season. Claude and Broome should be as good a frontcourt as any in the OVC, and if the Eagles can rein in their turnover problems, that pairing is the foundation of another dangerous team. They should be a good test for Xavier’s frontcourt, especially if Zach Freemantle is just coming back from injury. Morehead isn’t being rated highly by preseason metrics, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see them making noise in the conference and maybe pilfering the auto bid again.