Prospects are bright at Xavier. The Musketeers are coming off a run to the Sweet 16, are projected to play well both in non-conference and conference play, and have one of the best coaches in all the Big East. A program like that is usually one that other teams are circling on the calendar as a big-time matchup. However, that doesn't mean Xavier doesn't have some tilts that stand above others in terms of importance, impact and overall entertainment potential. Here are the top five.
Honorable Mention: St. John's
Xavier plays St. John's twice. It did the same thing last year and lost both times. Obviously, the Red Storm will look entirely different, both on the court and on the sidelines, but avoiding a season sweep to a league opponent is always a respectable goal.
5. At Michigan (Nov. 20)
Sure, Michigan wasn't a powerhouse last season. In fact, it wasn't even a house. More of a shack or a lean-two. The Wolverines went a middling 16-16 and didn't even play in a postseason tournament. But let's pump the brakes on calling them a team in decline. This squad is still just a two years removed from a trip to the national championship game and a backcourt of Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton is nothing to scoff at. Watching Trevon Bluiett battle with LeVert should be fun and it will be interesting to see how Xavier handles Walton without a proven point guard. Also, going on the road to face a major Big Ten foe should provide some padding to the ol' NCAA Tournament resume.
4. Wichita State (Nov. 27)
This isn't a guaranteed game. There are some variables in there, as Xavier would need to defeat Alabama on Nov. 26 and Wichita State would have to top USC, or both teams could lose, in the first part of the Advocare Invitational for this matchup to occur.
Let's operate under the assumption that those results come to pass. That means Xavier gets a shot at the mid-major darling known as Wichita State. The Shcokers have been to the NCAA Tournament for four-straight seasons and won 30 games in each of the last three. Smart money would have Wichita State regressing a bit from those lofty heights this season, especially with Tekele Cotton gone, but Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker, who are much more important player, are still around so the Shockers are still a 25-win team easily. Xavier will get a real taste of March in this November appetizer.
3. At Butler (Feb. 13)
If you believe the hype, you are firmly on the bandwagon that says Butler is not only one of the best teams in the Big East, but one of the best in the country. Roosevelt Jones, Kellen Dunham and coach Chris Holtmann form a trio any program would want on its side. Xavier took care of Butler at home and in the Big East Tournament last season, but failed to vanquish the Bulldogs on the road. This gives the X a chance to avenge that loss and make a big step towards a possible Big East regular season title. It would also be a nice momentum boost as it beings a four-game stretch that includes matchups with Providence, Georgetown and Villanova.
2. At Villanova (Dec. 31)
Speaking of Villanova, just about every team in the Big East's schedule is highlighted by a face off with the Wildcats. They have been the class of the league for quite some time and are in the process of reloading, not regrouping. Sure, Darrun Hilliard and JayVaughn Pinkston graduated and Dylan Ennis transferred, but co-Big East Player of the Year Ryan Arcidiacano, Big East Tournament MVP Josh Hart, Daniel Ochefu and much-hyped sophomore Phil Booth make for another powerful core. Beating Villanova, a team that topped them three times last season, would go a long way in proving that Xavier is a team to be reckoned with at the national level. In addition, this is the Big East opener for the X. A win could spark big things for 2016.
1. Cincinnati (Dec. 12)
Easily the biggest non-conference game and biggest rivalry contest of the season, the Crosstown Shootout should be an explosive affair this season. The Bearcats roster is overflowing with returning talent, talent that is hungry for revenge against Xavier after last season's 59-57 escape act. On the other side, Xavier is looking to make it three-straight wins against its cross-town rival. Both of these teams have a lot to prove and the pieces to do so, but only one will be able to add a win over such a quality non-conference foe to their resume. Wins in games like this are the stuff that push a squad from being a No. 11 or 10 seed to being a No. 6, 5 and, if you dare to dream, 4.