There is a lot happening in the sports world right now. After the long doldrums of August, where baseball was your only friend, the return of football has fans guzzling down the cool nectar of the first few weekends of college football, while burying themselves in the comforting excitement of NFL Sunday.
But don't forget about your old friend Big East basketball, which we all got a little taste of last week with the release of the Big East league schedule.
For Xavier, much of the non-league schedule had already been finalized, but its worth examining the lead up to Big East conference play to see where the Musketeers will be sitting once the league opener against Villanova comes around.
Friday Nov. 13 vs. Miami-Ohio
The last time these two Ohio-based squads matched up, Xavier ate the RedHawks' breakfast, lunch, dinner and fourth meal, laying down a 77-51 victory early in the 2013-14 season. Miami hasn't had a winning season since 2009 so this should be a nice way for the Musketeers to get comfortable early on. That will be especially helpful on the offensive end, as Xavier looks for a new floor general and post scorer after the graduation of Dee Davis and Matt Stainbrook.
Tuesday Nov. 17 vs. Missouri
Talk about a team that fell from grace. Mizzou went 9-23 last season, ending a streak of six-straight seasons with at least 20 victories. Still, the Tigers shouldn't be easily overlooked as they begin their second season under coach Kim Anderson. Junior guard Wes Clark (10.1 ppg) is a decent point guard and one that could take a step forward after s solid sophomore year. This is part of a home-and-home series. Last season, Xavier traveled to Missouri and enjoyed the stay, winning 74-58.
Friday Nov. 20 at Michigan
Here's the first really interesting game of the season. It's part of the inaugural Gavitt Tip-Off event, which pits teams from the mighty Big Ten against squads from the nationally disrespected Big East. Are we a little bitter and biased here at BECB? No comment.
Anyway, the Musketeers have to travel up to Ann Arbor for this one, making inot only the first interesting contest of the year but the first road contest of the campaign. Xavier had a lot of trouble on the road last season, going 7-10 away from the confines of the Cintas Center, including losses to Long Beach State, Auburn and DePaul. Yes, that DePaul. The Wolverines have fallen off the exceptional trajectory of a few years ago, as they finished at just 16-16 last season. However, the Maize and Blue have a nice, big backcourt with Caris LeVert and Zak Irvin.
Monday Nov. 23 vs. Northern Kentucky
This is a little warm up for Xavier's Thanksgiving vacation in Orlando for the Advocare Invitational. The Norse (yes, that is the nickname for NKU) went 13-17 last season, their third at the Division I level. Conservative estimates have Xavier winning this game by 50.
Thursday Nov. 26 vs. Alabama
While we are all busy stuffing more....stuffing down our throats, Xavier and 'Bama will tango in Orlando to kick off the Advocare Invitational. The Tide are entering their first season under Avery Johnson, former NBA head coach and ESPN talking head. They went 19-15 overall last season and have had more wins than losses in 14 of the last 15 seasons. However, they will be without last year's two leading scorers, as Levi Randolph (15.4 ppg) graduated and Ricky Tarrant (13.1 ppg) transferred. Even with those two, 'Bama still got squashed 97-84 by Xavier last season.
The Musketeers will then play either Wichita State or USC on Nov. 27 depending on the outcomes from Thursday. They are also slated for a game in the tournament on Nov. 29.
Saturday Dec. 5 vs. Western Kentucky
This is a bit more of an interesting matchup than it might appear at first glance. The Hilltoppers are consistently in the NCAA Tournament conversation it seems, as they were one of the top programs in the Sun Belt for years. Last season, they competed in Conference USA for the first time and finished 20-12. This is a rather young team, however, with five freshman on the roster and a host of transfer players, including Aaron Cosby, formerly of Illinois. Who knows if the Hilltoppers will have jelled at this point, but Ray Harper seems to have a nice handle on the program, so odds are they will.
Tuesday Dec. 8 vs. Wright State
It's the in-state showdown everyone has circled on their calendars! Wait, that's not right (no pun intended). The Raiders hail from Dayton but are not nearly the program that their neighbors at UD are. They finished 11-20 overall last season and didn't have a scorer put in more than 10 points per game. Xavier can mark this down as a win in permanent marker.
Saturday Dec. 12 vs. Cincinnati
What has become one of the most contentious and entertaining rivalries in the game lately, the Crosstown Shootout should be excellent this season. Cincinnati is really, really, really, really good. Bursting at the seems with experience, the Bearcats return all five starters from last year's 22-win team, with Jermaine Sanders (4.6 ppg) and Ge'Lawn Guyn (3.5 ppg) the only departing players. There's do-it-all forward Octavius Ellis (9.9 ppg, 7.2 rpg), capable point guard Troy Caupain (9.6 ppg) and super freshman Gary Clark (7.8 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 1.3 bpg) along with some talented freshman coming in.
We all know Cincinnati is a defensive nightmare so every basket will be hard earned. Xavier squeaked out a 59-57 win last season and won 64-47 the year before.
Saturday Dec. 19 vs. Auburn
It is almost as if Xavier is trying to make a push in the BCS rankings with all the SEC teams on the schedule. (Count it for the hot-off-the-presses reference). The Tigers showed life in their first season under Bruce Pearl, including their effort in an 89-88 double-overtime win over the Musketeers. Xavier should exact revenge in this one.
Tuesday Dec. 22 at Wake Forest
After this game, Xavier digs into the league schedule and this is a nice way to continue the ramp up to that part of the campaign. The Demon Deacons may have finished at just 13-19 last season, their first under Danny Manning, but there is talent here (Codi Miller-McIntyre and Devin Thomas), plus Manning should be able to squeeze out some improvement in year two. After all, he went 17-16 in first season in Tulsa and 21-13 in his second.
Xavier's non-conference schedule is extremely favorable. The Musketeers don't go on the road all that often, with only two true road games. Plus, they avoided drawing a top tier team from the Big Ten (at least in terms of last year's records) and play just one NCAA Tournament team from last year (Cincinnati). Of course, that second part could change depending on what happens in the Advocare Invitational. Even if the difficulty does get a boost during that Thanksgiving weekend, the Musketeers could very easily be undefeated before entering Big East play. However, I'm not courageous enough to predict that. I see a loss to Cincinnati and one more in there as well, possibly against Wake Forest or Michigan. Still, 10-2 near the end of December ain't bad.