By Ben Dickison, Staff Writer
Xavier men’s basketball team once again has taken on the challenge of playing some college hoops’ premier squads in non-conference play. In his second stint at the helm with Xavier and fifth season in Norwood, Head Coach Sean Miller is looking to return the program to its traditional position among the elite of the sport.
The Musketeers face their first power six conference opponent, the Indiana Hoosiers, this Friday at Cintas Center. This game will be part of the Gavitt Tipoff Games, an annual competition featuring eight games between teams representing the BIG EAST and Big 10 conferences. Indiana is the preseason 13-ranked team in college hoops and is led by CBS Sports Preseason All-American Trayce Jackson-Davis, who is widely regarded as one of the best big men in the nation and will be a great test for the Xavier frontcourt.
Following their first home marquee matchup, the men will travel out to the West Coast for the Phil Knight Legacy Tournament in Portland, OR. This invite-only tournament, named after the legendary Nike co-founder, consists of the top-tier basketball programs linked to apparel deals with the infamous brand.
The field includes college basketball royalty such as #7 Duke and #2 Gonzaga, plus very competitive sides in the likes of the Florida Gators, West Virginia Mountaineers, Purdue Boilermakers, Oregon State Beavers and Portland State Vikings. Xavier opens the tournament with a matchup against Florida, who were predicted sixth out of fourteen teams in a deep Southeastern Conference this season.
If the Musketeers can tame the chomp of the Gators, they will likely face their biggest test of the season in the form of the Duke Blue Devils (assuming they handle business as expected against Oregon State), led by first-year Head Coach Jon Scheyer; he has large shoes to fill to rival the resumé of legendary coach Mike Krzyzewski but pulled in the nation’s unanimous number one recruiting class.
Upon returning from Oregon, the Musketeers will take a one-game break from competition against power six foes against Southeastern Lousiana on Nov.r 30. Next up, West Virginia will roll into town for the men’s first December contest as part of the BIG EAST-Big 12 Battle.
This series follows a similar structure to the Gavitt Tipoff Games but instead features rotating matchups between BIG EAST and Big 12 teams. The Mountaineers squad, affectionally dubbed the “Press Virginia Mountaineers” represent a challenge to every team they face due to their fast-paced, physical defense that swarms the opponent upon the inbounding of the ball. This style of play will serve as a litmus test for Xavier’s guards, who up to this point have been relatively prone to committing turnovers.
Following the West Virginia matchup, the Musketeers will travel to Clifton for the Crosstown Shootout against the archrival Cincinnati Bearcats, who were picked to finish third in the American Conference (AAC) this season. Coach Wes Miller is entering his second season as head man with the Bearcats, who are off to a 3-0 start in the 2022-23 campaign. Redshirt Senior Transfer Landers Nolley II, who previously played big minutes at Virginia Tech and Memphis, has been a revelation for UC this season. He is second on the team in scoring, preceded only by Graduate Student David DeJulius, who made the Third-Team AAC this past season.
Overall, Cincinnati has an experienced roster and should be much improved from their 18-15 campaign last year. Following the Shootout, the Musketeers host the Southern University Jaguars on Dec. 13 to round out the non-conference schedule.
Xavier’s non-conference home slate is one its best in years, and fans have taken notice- season ticket sales for men’s basketball were at an all time record this year, with over 8300 units sold. For those who are unable to attend games in person, all of Xavier’s non- conference home games will be televised on the Fox Sports Network, while all other non conference games will be carried by one of the ESPN group of networks.