XAVIER TEAM 96 Opener - Scouting Morehead State!!!
Andy Mac Williams,
The Morehead State Eagles bus in from Morehead,Kentucky Friday night(7PM-FS1) to help the Muskies launch another season. MSU plays in the dog eat dog Ohio Valley Conference where the top teams are usually Belmont or Western Kentucky. Morehead is a team in transition. They fired Coach Sean Woods(former UK guard and Hall of Famer) after a 2-7 start last season and allegations of player abuse. In stepped 30 year old Preston Spradlin(former John Calipari staffer at Kentucky). He stabilized a nasty situation and led Morehead to a 10-6 OVC record. Spradlin is no longer "interim coach".but his job may be tougher despite a new contract. Five Senior starters are gone including fixture guards Xavier Moon and Miguel Dicent. MSU has just four returnees and eight newcomers(some freshmen-some JUCOS). The style of play is Calipari-esque(dribble drive offense with few set plays and primarily man-to-man defense).
Size is a problem as is experience.There is good talent. 6-7 Forward Lamontray Harris is the top veteran(Junior-9.4PPG-5.2 REBS-Preseason ALL-OVC). Harris played well(15 points-5 rebounds-4 assists) in their 92-67 Charity exhibition loss to UK at Rupp Arena as did Soph guard Jordan Walker(13 points-3 made threes). Walker is a sniping 2 guard from Indianapolis Cathedral HS.
Morehead gave frosh-centric Kentucky a game-outrebounding UK for the game 30-25(Can you believe that?) but MSU turned it over 26 times and were minus 17 points at the free throw line. The new point guard is JUCO A. J. Hicks who put up big numbers in junior college. Morehead hosted Cincinnati Christian(NAIA) and won 85-74 Monday. It got uncomfortable. CC trailed just 71-67 with 4 minutes left. They stayed in it with a barrage of three pointers.
MY CRYSTAL BALL SAYS:
To stay within hailing distance of XU at Cintas, Morehead will have to jack up and make a bundle of threes. Last season Xavier opened against a veteran Lehigh team with a top tier post Tim Kempton Jr. The 7th rated Muskies almost got upset(W 84-81). The script is different in 2017. Despite their NCAA Elite 8 run and an almost complete returning core from that team(except for Malcolm Bernard) and with 4 potentially impactful new comers (3 Frosh Naji Marshall,Paul Scruggs and Elias Harden plus Grad transfer Kerem Kanter) the Muskies are relatively down in the weeds nationally(#17 in both Preseason polls-AP and USA TODAY). They're picked 3rd in the Big East behind Villanova and Seton Hall.
Practice injuries make Senior leaders Trevon Bluiett and J.P. Macura a short term question mark physically. Las Vegas has XU an 80 to 1 long shot to win the NCAA Title but former IU coach Tommy Crean is the lone voice in the predicting universe picking Xavier to win it all in San Antonio.
No disrespect to Morehead but XU should handle them easily even if Bluiett plays limited minutes and J.P. is used sparingly. This game(along with Rider here Monday) is a proving ground for the freshmen and Kerem Kanter and a test case for the ultimate player rotation and combination possibilities. Internal competition for playing time is very real and intense for this deep talented versatile Xavier roster.
Things get very real very fast when the Muskies head to Madison and the Kohl Center next week(Thursday November 16th) to play Wisconsin in the Big East-Big Ten Gavitt Games.
WE HAVE NUMBERS-MANY NUMBERS!!
Xavier has won 27 straight home Openers dating back to 1989 and a Cincinnati Gardens loss(90-97) to Southern Utah State. That was the Twin Towers Muskie team(Tyrone Hill-Derek Strong). XU made its first NCAA Sweet 16 later that season, but they read their press clippings before that game. 17-0 is Xavier's record in Cintas Center Openers. Lehigh made it close last season. Western Michigan almost pulled the upset(L68-65) in 2010 with a long haired pudgy Matt Stainbrook playing his first college game for Western before his transfer to XU.
Xavier is 6-3 all time against Morehead. They played in the 1961 NCAA Tournament First Round at Freedom Hall in Louisville. MSU won 71-66. It was XU's first ever NCAA berth. They waited until 1983 for the second-losing to Alcorn State at UD Arena. The first Muskie NCAA win came in 1987 under the RCA Dome in Indianapolis(beat #13 Missouri 70-69).
BIG EAST TV HIGHLIGHTS FOR OPENING WEEKEND:
The other Friday games should be one sided except for Yale at Creighton which might be competitive. Saturday November 11th-the spotlight falls on the Chicago South Loop-DePaul opens the brand new Wintrust Arena against #14 Notre Dame-4PM-FS1. Sunday November 12th could be very interesting for hard core Big East fans. #23 Seton Hall has Monmouth(MAAC top team coached by King Rice) at the Rock in Newark(FS1-1:30). Ivy co-favorite Princeton plays at Butler-6PM-CBSSN with Pete Gillen broadcasting. Alcorn State meets Creighton in Omaha at 7PM-Sunday on FS1.