Seven weeks ago, the Xavier Musketeers released their full slate of nonconference opponents for the upcoming 2014-2015 season. With a nice mix of big and small schools from a range of different athletic conferences, this non-conference schedule should serve Xavier well in their soon to be second year as a member of the Big East Conference.
Without further ado, here are the rankings:
1. Cincinnati Bearcats (February 18; Cincinnati, OH at Fifth Third Arena)
For the first time since the infamous brawl back in 2011, this game is called the Crosstown Shootout again (was called the Crosstown Classic the past two years) and the game is back on the campuses of the schools (played in downtown US Bank Arena the past two years). Since the year-by-year series alternates home court, this will be the first time the Musketeers play at the Bearcats place (Fifth Third Arena) since 2010. Regardless of Cincinnati losing star Sean Kilpatrick and five others - among them athletic big Justin Jackson - this game will be a lot of fun to watch. To quote the rambunctious Terrell Owens, "Get yo popcorn ready!"
2. Missouri Tigers (December 13; Columbus, MO)
Xavier lost their top two leading scorers, but Mizzou lost their top three leading scorers, plus their head coach. Last year was a step back for the Tigers, failing to make the NCAA tournament for the first time in five seasons. New coach Kim Anderson is an unfamiliar face to a lot of people. But he is coming off a coaching stint with the Division II Central Missouri Mules where he coached for 12 years, won 274 games, and won the DII National Championship this past season. Not too shabby.
3. Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks (November 21; Cincinnati OH)
Stephen F. Austin has been dead for 178 years, long before basketball was invented. However a university named after him has been around for 91 years, and if Austin was living today, he would be proud of his Lumberjacks. A Lumberjack basketball program with two NCAA tournament appearances in the past 5 years, back-to-back Southland conference regular season champions, and a first ever NCAA tourney win last season, an upset over the VCU Rams in overtime, 77-75. This team is the favorite to win the Southland this season and should be a tournament team in 2015.
4. Alabama Crimson Tide (December 6; Cincinnati, OH)
If X had a football team then this would be their best non-conference game, but this is basketball and Alabama is not a power in basketball like they are in football. They are not horrid, but they are not great either. This is the second game of a two year deal between the schools, with X winning the first one last season in Tuscaloosa, 77-74. The Crimson Tide was 6-13 in games last year decided by 10 points or fewer and had the fourth toughest schedule in the country.
5. Auburn Tigers (December 20; Auburn, AL)
Another game against Tigers for the Musketeers and a game against former Tennessee Volunteers coach Bruce Pearl. The recently hired Pearl is in fact a pearl when it comes to success. The coach holds an all-time .700 winning percentage and has never had a losing season in 19 seasons as a coach and 10 as a Division 1 coach. Auburn is hoping the shine of Pearl, his personality and winning track record, can catch on to its lately disappointing program. It is a basketball program with only four NCAA tournament appearances in the last 25 years. Xavier has 18 in that same amount of time.
6. UTEP Miners or Princeton Tigers (November 28; Anaheim, CA - Wooden Legacy Tournament)
A potential matchup against one of these teams awaits X on the second day of their Thanksgiving Day tournament. It will either be the Miners or the Tigers - yes, more Tigers. UTEP almost played X in last year’s Battle 4 Atlantis tournament, and I expect they will be Xavier’s opponent if Xavier wins against San Diego. Princeton is an Ivy League force no doubt, but the Miners should beat them. UTEP is projected to win what’s left of the once powerful Conference-USA, and are even projected to make the title game of this tournament according to ESPN College basketball analyst Dana O’Neil.
7. Florida Gulf Coast Eagles (December 28; Cincinnati, OH)
You probably remember FGCU as that Cinderella Sweet 16 team in 2013 who got there by beating Georgetown (sorry Hoya fans) and San Diego State. You probably don’t remember the 2014 version of Florida Gulf Coast. They were the Atlantic Sun 2014 conference regular season champs, but fell to Duke slayer Mercer in the conference tournament, preventing a bid to the 2014 NCAA tournament. This will be a good team come the winter, and transfers Demetris Morant from UNLV and Brian Greene Jr. from Auburn will help immensely.
8. San Diego Toreros (November 27; Anaheim, CA - Wooden Legacy Tournament)
The Toreros play in the West Coast Conference, a conference that has NCAA Tournament regulars BYU, Saint Mary’s, and Gonzaga. San Diego is not the Aztecs of San Diego State, but it should still be interesting to see how this game goes, as Xavier has a great deal of travel compared to the Toreros. Plus X has a history of Thanksgiving Tourney flops; hopefully this won’t be one of them.
9. Long Beach State 49ers (November 18; Cincinnati, OH - home game as part of the Wooden Legacy)
The one thing both schools will have in common come November, is both schools will have unique looking basketball courts. Long Beach state has a court with palm trees, and Xavier is changing their court for this upcoming season to have the Cincinnati Skyline on it. Long Beach State is part of the Big West Conference, a conference that has 9 California schools and 1 Hawaii school. The 49ers, yes you read that correctly, made the NCAA Tournament two years ago and have had some success the past five seasons, but finished with a losing record last year, 15-17, for the first time since the 2007-08 season.
10. Murray State Racers (November 24, Cincinnati, OH)
Murray state has a very good basketball history, better than you would think. They have 15 NCAA Tournament appearances and 23 conference regular season championships. Some of you might remember former AP All-American, now Houston Rocket Isaiah Canaan, playing for the Racers a couple years ago. The Racers will have a good record again next year and should give X a game.
11. Northern Arizona Lumberjacks (November 14, Cincinnati, OH)
No this is not the Arizona Wildcats or the Arizona State Sun Devils, but rather the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks. Northern Arizona finished the year with a KenPom ranking of 262 (out of 341 teams) so they are not as good as their fellow in state schools. Though they did finish second in the Big Sky last year and should be a respectable team this season.
12. IUPUI Jaguars (December 9, Cincinnati, OH)
I have only heard of this school because of current Pacers guard George Hill, who played three seasons for the Jaguars. Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis has the name to be good at basketball, but not the game. Imagine if Indiana and Purdue was one team? Well that’s just a dream and IUPUI is a nightmare when it comes to basketball. They finished this past year with a KenPom ranking of 330, and again that’s out of 341 teams, so they are bad. The Jaguars are coming off back-to-back 6-25 seasons and have a new head coach starting this year. This game should be a cakewalk for X.