Remember the halcyon days of last November? Xavier went 5-1 in the month, beat Ohio State, somehow snuck past Virginia Tech, and only lost to a torrid Iowa State team when half of the Musketeers spent the day vomiting. Remember the nadir of last March? Prior to a lightning NIT run Xavier went 1-2, lost to Butler, and only beat (destroyed, really) a terrible Georgetown team. Still, the Musketeers were on the bubble all the way until the final bracket came out.
The reason that there was still some hope in March, and there was, despite what some naysayers were naysaying, was because of November. That comes down to the scheduling brilliance of Mario Mercurio and the team’s ability to execute. Well, guess what? The Musketeers are set up for the same success this season.
November will be a brutal test for a team relying on freshman to add some value immediately, no point guard, and a brand new coach who will be nearly two years from his last game. The first three games are Morgan State, Montana, and Fairfield. If Xavier isn’t 3-0 at that point, something has gone almost irretrievably wrong already.
Things get more challenging after that. Indiana is Xavier’s Gavitt game this season. The Hoosiers are 12th in Bart Torvik’s early season projections. The Buckeyes were comparably high when they came into the Cintas last season and the Musketeers rose to the challenge. That game will be the first time the team really gets tested. The three cupcakes before should give Claude, Boum, and Craft time to bed in and hopefully give Sean Miller (or whoever is coaching at that point) time to sort a rotation.
After that it’s time to catch breath, watch the World Cup, and get ready for a Thanksgiving battle against Florida, currently 26th in Torvik’s rankings. Other potential Xavier opponents at the Phil Knight include Duke, ranked 5th and an obvious national title contender, Gonzaga, currently first in the Torvik, Purdue, 28th, and West Virginia, 29th. (The Musketeers will get the Mountaineers for sure this year, but not until December.)
When Xavier emerges from November they will have played eight games. At least two of those will be against top 30 competition and one more seems almost a guarantee. There are four gimmie games on the slate as well, with SE Louisiana (I’ve been assured this is a real school), finishing the month out on the 30th. Things don’t get much easier come December, either.
Last November stood Xavier in such good stead that they nearly survived an almost hilariously bad February and March. This season they could well be in the same position. The Gavitt and Phil Knight games will test the team, and the new coaching staff, early, but they could very well make the difference come Selection Sunday.