Xavier heads to Ann Arbor Friday night to take on the 24th ranked Michigan Wolverines, in the final contest of the Gavitt Tipoff Games. Both teams currently sit at 2-0 on the season, but have not looked overly impressive in either of their first two games. Expect both teams to bring an increased effort in this one, as it could certainly be a game the NCAA Tournament committee will remember when choosing the field of 68 in March.
Here are three keys to tonights non-conference battle:
1. Can Xavier find their form?
The Musketeers came into the season with plenty of reason for optimism. They finished the 2014-15 season on an extremely high note, making a run to the Big East Tournament finals, and the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament. Despite returning almost every key contributor from last year's team, and bringing in an impressive recruiting class, the Musketeers have yet to find that same level of play in this young season. Both of Xavier's two victories were unimpressive, against opponents the should be able to handle with ease in Miami (OH) and Missouri. Michigan will be a step up in class for Xavier, who will need to raise their game to their opponent's level if they want to remain undefeated.
2. Is Michigan back?
Last season was a difficult season in Ann Arbor. Coming off a trip to the NCAA Tournament Finals in 2013, and an Elite 8 appearance in 2014, the 2015 season was a complete disaster for the Wolverines. John Beilein and his team are hoping to erase the memory of last year's season that had Michigan watching March Madness from their couches. Caris Lavert and Derrick Walton Jr. are back to full health, as they will be the keys in leading the Wolverines back to the dance this season.
3. Litmus Test Game
On paper these two teams appear to be fairly even. Both team have experience, talent, and a quality coach. This contest should be closely fought, come down to a few plays that could go either way, and every other cliche you can think of. The point is, the most important thing to come out of this game may not be who wins, but if both teams are able to put together a strong performance against a quality opponent. Both Xavier and Michigan can afford a loss at this point in the season (although their respective fans may not think so), but both teams are still looking to establish their identity early in the year. No matter who comes out on top in the end, this should be a entertaining contest for viewers.