It's almost time for the first game of the season, which means it is time for us to post the final cherry on top of the sweet, sweet sundae that is our offseason coverage. We'll start today with the first half of the non-conference schedule tonight, finish the non-conference slate tomorrow, and segue into Brad's look at the upcoming conference season Thursday evening on into Friday. After the figurative long, cold winter that is the literal long, hot summer, we're finally braced for actual basketball action. Don't forget to vote in the poll and talk about the season/the weather/your crazy cats in the comment section.
NB: teams are noted with last year's record, RPI ranking, and Ken Pom ranking. Full write-ups include in-depth information on the team's losses, returnees, incoming players, and playing style from our "Know Your Non-conference Opponent" series.
You don't go 3-26 on accident, and Fairleigh Dickinson pulled that stunt with aplomb last year. This game was no doubt scheduled as the most guaranteed of guarantee games, but the carnage of late at Xavier has cast a pall on pretty much any upcoming fixtures. Adding Isaiah Philmore's three game suspension and Chris Cantino's still ambiguous eligibility status, and this one could be shaping up as the most ignomious of all possible trap games.
Don't believe it, though. Their leading scorer is a 6'3" senior guard who shot a staggering .351/.292/.763 last year. Second-leading scorer and Deveroes Summer League legend Lonnie Hayes led the team in assists last year but will be sitting this game out with an undisclosed injury. I'm sure Coach Greg Ventrone is a hard worker and a nice guy, but his team, I'm sad to report, looks to be rubbish this year. Even in what figures to be a down year, this is a guarantee game for the Musketeers. For the full write-up on Fairleigh Dickinson, click here.
Brad's pick: Win. Because if we lose to Fairleigh Dickinson, I quit.
Joel's pick: Win. I don't want to have to run this site all by myself.
KenPom's take: 78-59 Xavier victory, 95% chance of any Xavier win.
One of the bonuses of being good for a number of consecutive years is that people who own TV stations start asking permission to broadcast your games to a larger national audience. Aside from the gratitude of your fan base for no longer having to stream your games from sketchy third-world websites (a practice that we here at Banners officially do not advocate), you get a chance to point to the TV while on recruiting trips and encourage players to come to your school so their mothers can watch them play from the comfort of home. Of course, it helps if you don't get spanked on national television.
Butler (he segued) is a team that may have the talent to serve up just such a helping of humble pie to X. This is the final meeting of these two teams as non-conference foes, and that series has produced a number of memorable games. Inside-out threat Andrew Smith led the team in scoring last year, and Coach Brad Stevens has a trio of forwards who hit the boards hard in Khyle Marshall, Roosevelt Jones, and Kameron Woods. Arkansas transfer Rotnei Clarke is an absurdly good shooter and will run the point for the Bulldogs, and incoming freshman Kellen Dunham is a 6'5" SG with range out to the parking lot. This, then, is a potential recipe for unhappiness for Xavier fans. For the full write-up on Butler, click here.
Brad's pick: Loss. The Bulldogs have the top end talent we don't right now. Brad Stevens v. Coach Mack should be a great matchup if they both stay in the A-10.
Joel's pick: Loss. As much as I hate to (SPOILER ALERT) go against my boy KenPom, I just don't see X as having the horses to restrain Butler this year.
KenPom's take: 66-65 Xavier victory, 52% chance of any Xavier win.
After the Butler game, Xavier will welcome Robert Morris and 30-year-old head coach Andrew Toole to the Cintas Center. While a youthful coach may inspire visions of unrestrained enthusiasm, the Colonials are the exact opposite on the court, playing a glacial pace on offense and doing their best to restrain the opponent's speed of play on defense. RMU crushes the offensive glass and forces turnovers at an elite rate.
If you've been following us through the summer, you know that the Colonials return basically their entire team from last year; 92.2 percent of its scoring, 86.2 percent of its rebounding, and 88.8 percent of its assists. As if that wasn't enough, JuCo scorer Karvel Anderson has joined the team after dropping 25 per game in his last season that the NJCAA level. For the full write-up on Robert Morris, click here.
Brad's pick: Win, but very close. If Xavier's backcourt isn't working well, this is a loss.
Joel's pick: Win. I think X basically has a coin toss shot at this game and the Butler game, so I'm picking one to be a win. RMU's experience scares me.
KenPom's take: 66-65 Xavier victory, 53% chance of any Xavier win.
Head Coach Bob Thomason is entering his 25th and final season at Pacific this year; he's been coaching longer than anyone participating in this game has been alive. Like RMU, Pacific plays a very, very slow pace. Thomason's teams don't turn the ball over much, but they also don't force that many turnovers, either. While technically at a neutral site, it's important to note that Anaheim is a whole lot more like home to Pacific than it is to X.
Pacific brings back a lot of guys from a team that wasn't very good last year. Their leading scorer is somehow both a shameless volume shooter (EFG% 41.9%) and a ball distributor (assist percentage of 29.3%). Their best scorer is 6'7" wing Ross Rivera, who will provide an interesting matchup for whoever Coach Mack decides is Xavier's most reliable tall defender. Three JuCo transfers - a PG, an SG, and a PF - come in this year, highlighting the "win now" nature of the season. For the full write-up on Pacific, click here.
Brad's pick: Brad apparently couldn't be bothered to pick this game.
Joel's pick: Win. Even on a neutral court that will favor the opponent, Xavier should be able to prevail. X's young players just need to stay focused on the game at hand rather than viewing this as a vacation.
KenPom's take: 66-62 Xavier victory, 67% chance of any Xavier win.
Win, lose, or draw (which seems unlikely), Xavier is promised a trio games over the weekend of the Anaheim Classic. This year's field is comprised of Xavier and Cal, Drake, Drexel, Georgia Tech, Pacific, Rice, and Saint Mary's. The Muskies will play three of those teams by the time all is said and done, but Pacific is the only team they are guaranteed to encounter.
Xavier's second round opponent will be one of Drexel and Saint Mary's, depending on what happens in each respective first-round game. If Xavier wins the first two, it's on to the championship. Any loss sends the Muskies to the purgatory of the "consolation" bracket. All seven potential opponents pose a risk to X, but it's also not inconceivable that X is the one holding up the hardware at the end of the weekend.
Due to the impossibility of knowing who will play whom, neither Brad nor Joel nor KenPom has picked a winner in these games.
Here's where it goes from dodgy to potentially very ugly for the young Musketeers. Purdue and Xavier were very evenly matched last year, leading to one of the most exciting games of the season at the Cintas Center. This year, Purdue's traditionally smothering defense will be integrating at least three new starters, but Coach Matt Painter will have had a month of game action to whip things into shape by the time the Boilermakers play host to Xavier.
Returning guard Terone Johnson is a solid defender whose offensive productivity is hampered by absolutely miserable FT shooting. DJ Byrd returns and is basically the exact opposite, being a dead-eye shooter with more questionable defensive credentials. Painter's recruiting class boasts three ESPN100 players, including seven-footer AJ Hammons and 6'5" guard Raphael Davis, who can score from all over. This roster has the markers of a young and talented team building into something potentially special. For the full write-up on Purdue, click here.
Brad's pick: Loss. Purdue is in something of the same situation as Xavier, but with at least one returning starter. That makes the difference.
Joel's pick: Loss. If Purdue's young talent integrates quickly, this could be ugly. If it doesn't, home-court advantage still sways this one Purdue's way.
KenPom's take: 73-62 Xavier loss, 17% chance of any Xavier win.
Stay tuned for Part 2, coming at ten o'clock tomorrow morning.