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Season Preview, part 2

"Well begun is half done" as the old saying goes, but Xavier's non-conference season will be halfway to fruition at this point regardless of how well it has actually gone. There will be some tough games in the rearview at this point, but the heaviest hitters on the schedule are still to come.

Mick Cronin threatens to suspend his entire team as the media applauds, only to choose a 30-second timeout instead.
Mick Cronin threatens to suspend his entire team as the media applauds, only to choose a 30-second timeout instead.
Frank Victores-US PRESSWIRE

If you missed the first part of our season preview, don't do anything - anything - until you click here to read it. Then feel free to forgive yourself and move forward.

At this point in the season, it's likely we'll know more or less what we have on our hands in the 2012-203 Xavier Musketeers. If Xavier is showing signs of life, these final seven non-conference games are vital lines on a potential tournament resume. If not, Coach Mack and his staff will spend this time trying iron out the kinks to set Xavier up for the upcoming Atlantic Ten season.

Vanderbilt (25-11, 17, 16) -- Thursday, December 6, 7:30pm -- Cintas Center (ESPN2)
Vanderbilt was a hugely talented, hugely experienced team last season that probably counted themselves unlucky to come up on the losing end against Xavier. Much like the Muskies, Vandy's roster has been completely overhauled this season. The top six players in terms of playing time last year are absent, leaving Kevin Stallings with a roster full of question marks and a leading returning scorer who posted 3.1 points per game on a profligate .343/.238/.794 shooting line last year.

Also like the Muskies, the Commodores' leading incoming player will feature primarily on the perimeter. SG A.J. Astroth is a 6'6" shooter with heaps of range. A couple of wings - including 6'5" slasher Kevin Bright from noted basketball hotbed Germany - round out the interesting additions to this year's team. Vanderbilt is going to be thin inside and dependent on returning role players and incoming freshman to make this season anything but painful. For the full write-up on Vanderbilt, click here.

Brad's pick: Win. Call the strength of Isaiah Philmore the difference here.
Joel's pick: Win. Xavier should have the better point guard play, which will tip the balance of the game in the Muskies' favor.
KenPom's take: 68-67 Xavier victory, 52% chance of any Xavier win.

Kent State (20-12, 114, 129) -- Sunday, December 9, 4pm -- Cintas Center (FOX Sports Ohio)
The Golden Flashes like to get up and down the court under Coach Rob Senderoff, which - combined with their ball-hawking defense - makes them an exciting team to watch. Defending the glass is a problem for them, and they are a bit undersized across the front. This is a game that could get entertaining if Xavier decides to match the pace and keep the ball running up and down.

KSU's best scorer and best ball distributor from last year are gone, leaving some question marks in the lineup. Guard Randal Holt is an efficient scorer who averaged 12.7 PPG last year and figures to be the focus of the offense this season. Transfer Bryson Pope (6'7" forward late of Tulsa), Darren Goodson (6'4", 240-pound wing hailing from the JuCo ranks) and Melvin Tabb (6'8", 245-pound forward from Wake Forest) come in to add an injection of immediate talent and experience to the Kent State attack. For the full write-up on Kent State, click here.

Brad's pick: Win. This game ends in the 160s in points scored if the young guards from both teams get to running.
Joel's pick: Win. Despite the infusion of transfer talent, I think Kent State is ineffective in forcing Xavier to turn it over, resulting in a victory for X.
KenPom's take: 73-66 Xavier victory, 76% chance of any Xavier win.

Cincinnati (26-11, 35, 26) -- Wednesday, December 19, 7pm -- Cincinnati, OH (ESPN2)
After some time off for finals, Xavier will be facing down the zoo that is sure to be the national media coverage of the first UC-Xavier in the post-brawl "Crosstown Classic" era. It will be interesting to see how much bad blood lingers between the teams; with most of the antagonists from the fight gone and the players no doubt warned to remain on their best behavior, I'm guessing this game will not feature some of the notable acting out seen in previous incarnations of the rivalry.

In terms of actual on-court matters, UC looks poised to return the favor from last year's 76-53 figurative beating at the hands of Xavier. Top scorer Sean Kilpatrick returns, as do leading assist man Cashmere Wright and combo guard JaQuon Parker. Junior transfer Titus Rubles, a 6'7" forward, has been earning raves for his rebounding and court vision in the preseason for UC. For the full write-up on Cincinnati, click here.

Brad's pick: Huge loss. Let's move on.
Joel's pick: Loss. Xavier has less talent and less experience. Ugh.
KenPom's take: 69-61 victory for Cincinnati, 24% chance of any Xavier win.

Wofford (17-14, 178, 208) -- Saturday, December 22, 2pm -- Cintas Center (FOX Sports Ohio)
After the Crosstown Classic, Xavier will be right back in action on the ensuing Saturday. Wofford figures to be a much easier task for the Musketeers than the Cincinnati game was. The Terriers like to take their time, protect the basketball, and eschew the offensive glass for sending guys back to stop the fast break. They are not a very good defensive team by almost any statistical measure.

Wofford's top two players in terms of minutes and usage are both gone, leaving behind two positions at which almost 95% of the minutes need to be replaced. Forward Lee Skinner is a monster on the offensive glass, and guard Karl Cochran is the team's leading returning scorer. Both players were freshmen last year. Five players who will be freshmen this year join the Terriers to round out the roster. A team that wasn't that good last year is going to struggle with so many new faces this season. For the full write-up on Wofford, click here.

Brad's pick: Win.
Joel's pick: Win. The day Xavier can't beat Wofford at the Cintas Center is the day we need to take a serious look at the direction of the program.
KenPom's pick: 67-59 Xavier victory, 79% chance of any Xavier win.

Tennessee (18-15, 90, 61) -- Saturday, December 29, 6pm -- Knoxville, TN (ESPNU)
A week off for the Christmas holiday comes to a halt with a trip to Knoxville to take on the Vols. Coach Cuonzo Martin is already waist-deep in his reboot of the UT basketball program after former coach Bruce Pearl's dismissal, and he is already molding the team into a defensive force to be reckoned with. The offense sputtered at times, but they also played a then-undefeated and eventual national championship winning UK team to a three-point loss.

UT is a deep and talented squad this year. Trae Golden is a classic combo guard, leading the team in scoring and assists last season on an admirable .439/.388/.828 shooting line. Big-bodied forwards Jeronne Maymon (12.7 and 8.1 last year) and Jarnell Stokes (9.7 and 7.4 last year) return to wreck havoc in the middle while shooter Skylar McBee (39.1% from deep last season) and bench scorer Jordan McRae (8.6 PPG) also return. This is a team that is poised for big things. For the full write-up on Tennessee, click here.

Brad's pick: Loss. This is the kind of game X just doesn't have the guns to win.
Joel's pick: Loss. Xavier has no answer for the bulk of Stokes and Maymon in the middle.
KenPom's take: 72-62 Tennessee victory, 17% chance of any Xavier win.

Wake Forest (13-18, 182, 210) -- Wednesday, January 2, TBA -- Winston-Salem, NC (FOX Sports Ohio)
The Prosser Classic is back on this year, and Xavier is travelling to Wake to renew the series. Wake was fairly bad last year, but they are another team that plays at a pretty quick tempo. The Demon Deacons weren't any good at offensive rebounding last year despite having the length to be in the top 50 in blocks, which leads me to believe it was strategic and not a question of talent. They also make little effort to force turnovers on the defensive end.

Wake lost five players who played at least 20 games last year to a variety of graduations and transfers. Returning are guard C.J. Harris, who put up 16.7 PPG on .477/.422/.844 shooting and forward Travis McKee, who put up 16.1 and 7.0 and knocked down 33 three-point shots last season. Seven incoming freshmen round out the roster, including 6'2" ESPN100 PG Codi Miller-McIntyre and 6'6" wing Arnaud Moto from Cameroon. Stretch four Tyler Cavanaugh and back-to-the-basket PF Devin Thomas are also among the incoming players. For the full write-up on Wake Forest, click here.

Brad's pick: Loss. Too much Harris and McKie. Big players win games.
Joel's pick: Win. Too many new pieces for Wake; Xavier's young core takes another big step forward with a road win.
KenPom's take: 70-68 Xavier victory, 56% chance of any Xavier win.

Memphis (26-9, 20, 8) -- Tuesday, February 26, 7pm -- Cintas Center (ESPN2)
Memphis has smoothly segued from the Calipari days' predictable fallout to a perennial contender for an NCAA berth while also not actively being investigated. The Tigers play a fast-paced but controlled game under Coach Josh Pastner, running the court without turning the ball over. They also have little trouble getting the ball into the basket. Pastner's defenses have been smothering, eschewing the pursuit of turnovers for the equally effective goal of stubbornly refusing to allow open shots.

While the Tigers lost a couple of top performers from last year, the squad they suit up for this season figures to be just as talented. Guard Joe Jackson is a fairly efficient scorer just looking for a chance to break out, and assists leader Chris Crawford is back as well. Forwards Tarik Black and Adonis Thomas know their respective ways around the bucket, and Thomas can also step out and hit jumpers. McDonald's All-American PF Shaw Goodwin will debut this season, and uber-talented problem child/scoring guard Geron Johnson joins the team after being dismissed from two junior colleges in two years. For the full write-up on Memphis, click here.

Brad's pick: Loss. Barely a contest for the Tigers, who don't get the RPI bump they were hoping for when this game was scheduled.
Joel's pick: Loss, and likely the worst one of the year.
KenPom's take: 72-66 Memphis victory, 29% chance of any Xavier win.