By: Paul Fritschner ~Staff Writer~
The Big East unveiled the men’s basketball conference schedule Tuesday afternoon. Here we’ll take a look at what to expect in the conference season and see how the schedule shakes out.
The non-conference slate for the Musketeers is presumably one of the toughest in the country, having home games against 2016 NCAA tournament team Utah as well as traveling to Baylor and Colorado for matchups with two more tournament teams. Xavier will also face off with Missouri in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off with the potential of playing 2016 Final Four team Oklahoma.
The team opens its Big East season with a home game against an expectedly paltry Providence team. After the NBA Draft gutted the Friars of stars Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil, Providence is tasked with the challenge of finding players to replace their two biggest contributors from a season ago.
The Big East marathon, usually held on New Year’s Eve, has been moved to Martin Luther King Day on Jan. 16. Instead, before the ball drops in New York this year, Xavier will travel to the nation’s capital to take on the Georgetown Hoyas.
From Jan. 10-26, the Musketeers face a pivotal series of matchups.
First, on Jan. 10, they travel to Philadelphia for the first meeting with the defending national champion Villanova Wildcats. They will stay on the road for a game against Butler before returning to Cintas to take on Creighton and Georgetown. Xavier dropped games to both the Hoyas and Bluejays a season ago, two of only four losses the team had during the regular season.
Rounding out the five games is the Crosstown Shootout on Jan. 26, which will be held at the University of Cincinnati this year. The intense rivalry has seen the Musketeers win every matchup since joining the Big East in 2013.
Xavier begins February with a home game against Seton Hall, a team that gave the Musketeers a lot of trouble last season. With their size, the Pirates could pose a threat once again.
Feb. 11 is a date you will want to circle on your calendar, as it marks the first trip back to the Cintas Center for the Villanova Wildcats since Xavier defeated them when the Wildcats were ranked No. 1 last season.
Rounding out the schedule is a home game against Marquette before the final game of the regular season, a trip to Creighton. From there, it’s on to Madison Square Garden for the Big East Tournament.
“The philosophy with our tough non-conference play is that it prepares us for the grind of Big East basketball where every team is going to put up a battle night in and night out,” junior big man Sean O’Mara said. “Every game we play gives us a chance to prove our worthiness as a NCAA Tournament team, so building a strong schedule that gives us a top RPI (Ratings Percentage Index) helps us get closer to March.”
When analyzing the schedule, it’s very easy to look at a few games and say, “Wow, that’s a tough stretch.” The Musketeers are part of one of the premier conferences in the country, with a member that currently owns the national championship trophy.
The Big East is no cake walk, and Xavier’s entire schedule will be a test of skill, will and determination.