The last time Chris Mack was on the sidelines, his team was in a fight to the death with No. 2 seed Arizona, a fight Xavier nearly won. When you lose in such heart-wrenching fashion in the last game of the season, it has to leave a bitter taste that lingers all off-season.
Well, the time has finally come to start another run at the lofty heights the fans packing the Cintas Center have come to expect. On Friday night, the Musketeers will host the Miami-Ohio RedHawks, who, as you may know, hail from the same state as the X. Here is some reading material to get you primed for opening night.
1. Poised for Breakouts
Trevon Bluiett and Jalen Reynolds have gotten a lot of publicity this offseason, particularly from your humble author. Bluiett was one of the best freshmen in the Big East last season and will be an even bigger part of the offense this season, as he is the top returning scorer (11 PPG). Some (read: me) think he will be in the mix for First Team All-Big East honors when all is said and done. Friday should give a glimpse of just how big a leap he is set to make as a sophomore.
Reynolds, who is technically not a returning starter since he started only three games last season, is the second player on the roster that seems ready to blow. Reynolds scored 9.9 points and grabbed 6.1 rebounds per game last season, averaging about 20 minutes per outing. If you project that out over 40 minutes, you are essentially talking about a 20-10 guy. Reynolds will have to step up on offense, as he is now the go-to option in the post after the departure of Matt Stainbrook. In the same way the opener will give a look at Bluiett's improvement, it will also provide a chance to see how much more the X will lean on Reynolds.
2. The Right Foot
Xavier has made a habit of winning on opening night. The Musketeers have won their last 25 season openers. Now, before we get too crazy, most programs of Xavier's caliber don't play juggernauts the first time out, but getting a win on the resume at the word go is still nothing to scoff at. If you were wondering, the last time Xavier lost a season opener was in 1989 when it fell 97-90 to Southern Utah. Things worked out just fine from there, as the Musketeers went on to go 28-5 and make it to the Sweet 16, the first appearance in program history.
3. In-state Rivalry?
If you had to bet on what Xavier's all-time record against Miami was, its likely you would put a great many duckets on a wide disparity in Xavier's favor between wins and losses. You would lose that bet even though Xavier, a team that has become a NCAA Tournament mainstay, would seem like it had a major lead in the all-time series. That's why you have to study history, kids. Although the Musketeers have won more games than they've lost against the RedHawks, they are still just 53-47 against them. The small separation they have has come recently, with Xavier winning 10 of the last 13 meetings, including a 77-51 romp in the last matchup in 2013.
By the way, here's what you need to know about Miami. The RedHawks went 13-19 last season, their third under head coach John Cooper. They have not had a winning record since 2009 when they went 17-13. Their last NCAA Tournament appearance came in 2007. Their strength is in the backcourt where guards Eric Washington (14.2 PPG, 5.5 APG) and Geovonie McKnight (10.5 PPG) reside.