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Know Your Non-conference Opponent: Norfolk State

In the middle game of a four-game stretch of games against state schools, Xavier will catch its breath before heading to the preseason NIT.

NCAA Basketball: Norfolk State at Gonzaga IndyStar-USA TODAY Sports

Norfolk State owns one of the most famous first-round upsets in tournament history. In the 2012 tournament, they entered as a 15 seed and scrapped tooth and nail with Missouri before a 12-2 run straddling the final media timeout gave them just enough breathing room to hold on at the end. That was the last time they made the tournament until last year, when they won a (play-in) game as a 16 seed before getting run off the floor by Gonzaga.

That beating aside, Norfolk State had a solid season last year. After going 4-3 in the non-conference, they went 8-4 in a dozen conference games, and 3 of their 4 losses were to Coppin State. They did enough to take the MEAC tournament - which entailed just a pair of wins - and earn their way into the big dance.

It's hard to put a finger on coach Robert Jones's style. The 2019 Skip Prosser Man of the Year Award winner likes to play slowly, and his teams generally get to the glass well on the offensive end. They've been plagues by turnovers for most of Jones's 8 years in charge, and they've never shot particularly well on the whole, though they were the 3rd-best free throw shooting team in the country in 2016 (must have practiced them after sprint work!). Jones's defenses have done a good job at forcing turnovers and speeding opponents up, but they foul a ton. They've been solid in defensive EFG% the past several years, but foul trouble and an inability to grab defensive rebounds has rendered their defenses mediocre at best.

Key departures

If you're going to lose your leaders in points, rebounds, assists, and steals, does it hurt more to have them be four separate guys or all the same guy? The latter is the date Norfolk State suffered when Devante Carter hit the transfer portal. The 6'3" guard will play out his bonus year at Nicholls State, which isn't exactly the kind of powerhouse that eases the sting of losing your most productive player.

Also I think moving on is big man JJ Mathews. He had a year of eligibility left, and he is not listed in Norfolk State's press release of athletes who graduated, but he's not listed on the roster for this year. I'll assuming he and his 8 and 5 a game have ridden into the sunset.

Definitely listed as having graduated is Kyonze Chavis, a sharpshooting guard who started 18 games last year and hit 39% of his threes. He averaged 7.5 per game and led the team in steal rate. Also gone is guard Mustafa Lawrence; he averaged 5 PPG and got 9 starts while sporting a miserable 38.5% EFG%.

Key returnees

The leading returning scorer is Joe Bryant, Jr., a 6'1", 225-pound guard who might earn the Marcellus Earlington Memorial Award as the thiccest opponent Xavier faces this year. He averaged 11.1/4.2/1.9 last year, shooting very well from deep and the line but posting sub-par numbers inside the arc. Also returning is guard Jalen Hawkins, who stands an inch taller than Bryant and weighs in 55 pounds lighter. He averaged 10 per game and shot a very respectable .456/.438/.684.

Kashaun Hicks also graduated (cum laude, no less), but he decided to use his bonus year of eligibility because he has the rest of his life to work. He's a 6'6" power forward who averaged 8 and 4 per game and hit more than 40% of his threes. He's almost invisible on the offensive glass but holds his own on the defensive end. Wing Daryl Anderson rounds out the interesting returning guys. He has gotten limited time so far, but he's a catch-and-shoot maestro who has made more than 45% of his three-point attempts through two years of D1 ball.

Incoming players

Kris Bankston is an interesting case. The 6'9", 230-pound big played four years at Arkansas-Little Rock, where he shot 72% from the floor. He played well his first two seasons, but injuries cost him most of the last two years. When healthy, he eats glass at both ends and is comically efficient in the paint. Joining him via the portal is Christian Ings, a 6'2" guard who I believe is not Danny's brother. He comes in from Rider, where he averaged 7.7/3.5/2.4 last year on 40% shooting from the floor.

Well-traveled forward Dana Tate joins from Siena, where he played zero games. Before (technically) being a Saint, he spent two years at URI, putting up unspectacular numbers. He was a four-star guy out of high school and is looking to get things started back up as a Spartan.

Coming in from the juco ranks is 6'3" guard Terrance Jones. As a freshman last year, he averaged 16/5/3 and hit more than 40% from behind the arc. He can play either guard position and should challenge for minutes from the start. Cahiem Brown is both a juco guy and a D1 transfer, having started at UTEP before spending two seasons at Georgia Highlands. He's a volume scorer who has decent range but makes his mark as a slasher.


One of the deepest teams in the nation last year lost some key pieces, but they've reloaded with 5 transfers coming in to bolster their ranks. Depth doesn't necessarily equate to quality though, and the Spartans have some work to do if they want to make another run to the NCAA tournament. Their game against Xavier should be more a question of X taking care of business than anything else. If we're talking about this in March, it's not a good sign.