Date: Tuesday, November 9
Time: 7:30 p.m.
TV: FS1 Whip-around/Fox Sports App
Spread: Xavier -16.5
Moneyline: Xavier +1375 | Niagara +800
“Everybody’s got an excuse, but listen, we didn’t finish the way we wanted to finish.”
Xavier Head Coach Travis Steele was not pleased with the way his team ended last season.
“I want those guys to remember that.”
Entering March, the Musketeers were eight games above .500. As long as they finished in the top half of the Big East, Xavier was poised to make the NCAA tournament for the first time with their new head coach. Instead, for the second time in as many years, they dropped their last two games of the regular season and fell in the opening round of the Big East Tournament.
Almost everyone from last year’s Xavier squad is back. The team’s top eight scorers all return, led by preseason All-BIG EAST First Team members Paul Scruggs and Zach Freemantle. Scruggs was a unanimous selection. Colby Jones and Dwon Odom both had strong freshman seasons, with Jones being selected for last season’s Big East All-Freshman Team. Nate Johnson was one of the most efficient perimeter shooters in the nation last year. Adam Kunkel had his heroics and averaged 7 points per game primarily as a rotational player. And of course, there’s Kyky Tandy, the junior guard that struggled at times last season but was named to the Big East All-Freshman Team two years ago.
To add to that returning star power, Travis Steele added Jacke Nunge from Iowa and Jerome Hunter from Indiana in the offseason. Both big men can score and rebound and will certainly add a physical touch alongside Freemantle in the paint.
It’s no surprise this group was picked to finish third in the Big East and is just outside the top 25 entering this year.
When Xavier opens the season Tuesday night against Niagara, they’ll be without Zach Freemantle due to injury. Still, the Musketeers are favored to win their 32nd consecutive season-opener. Xavier is 8-2 all-time against the Purple Eagles, with their last meeting coming in 1988.
Leading the upset bid from Niagara will be Marcus Hammond. Named to the Preseason All-MAAC First Team, Hammond is a streaky scorer that led the team in rebounding as a guard last season. The Purple Eagles had a disciplined offense, leading the conference in turnover margin, assist to turnover ratio, and turnovers per game a year ago.
Travis Steele’s motto for this year’s Xavier team? Finish. The Musketeers certainly have the talent to get over the hump and into the NCAA tournament, but that’s months away. For now, that road starts Tuesday night by reopening the Cintas Center to fans in style with a win over Niagara.
For the first time, FOX Sports will be jumping from game to game around the Big East for opening night. On FS1, you’ll find this coverage of all of the night’s games. If you’re looking for the Xavier game, it can be found in its entirety in the FOX Sports App.