SCOUTING IUPUI!! OPENING NIGHT FOR THE TRAVIS STEELE ERA!!
Andy Mac Williams,
Xavier's TEAM 97 is awash in changes. There's the new head coach (Travis Steele) plus three new assistant coaches(Jonas Hayes, Ben Johnson and Dante Jackson) plus five new scholarship players(grad transfers Zach Hankins, Ryan Welage and Kyle Castlin) and two freshmen (Dontarius James and Keonte Kennedy). 32 preseason practices are in the books plus Musketeer Madness, the secret scrimmage at Ohio State and the exhibition win over D-2 Kentucky Wesleyan(98-69). Now the bullets fly for real Tuesday night at Cintas against the IUPUI Jaguars (Horizon League)(8;30 Tip-TV FS2).
PG Quentin Goodin is back practicing after missing three weeks with a dislocated shoulder. He competed in most drills during Sunday's practice wearing a shoulder harness. He ran the floor well and used his left handl. Odds are "Q" will be held out of the IUPUI opener as an extra precaution. Goodin shot three pointers with deadly accuracy after practice. He's clos to full function. Ferris State transfer Zach Hankins returned to full practice and should be ready for Tuesday's opener.
SOME VERY LARGE NUMBERS!!!
Xavier sports a 28 year win streak in home openers dating back to 1989 and a Cincinnati Gardens upset loss to Southern Utah State(97-90). Pete Gillen was the coach. Bill Clinton was Governor of Arkansas. XU featured the Twin Towers Tyrone Hill and Derek Strong that season and regrouped to make their first ever NCAA Sweet 16 run. The Muskies went 10-0 in openers from 1990-1999 including Skip Prosser's first XU victory in 1994 over then D-2 IUPUI.
Cintas opened in November 2000 with a win over Miami. X is now 18-0 in CC opening games. Xavier also has posted 38 consecutive non-conference home court wins at Cintas Center dating back to December 2012 and a nasty 56-55 loss to pesky Wofford(Southern Conference).Duke is well over 100 straight non-conf "Ws" at Cameron Indoor Stadium as I remember, but X's streak is going on 6 years old and that's impressive.
Xavier is 5-0 against the Jags from Indianapolis. Some refer to IUPUI as Ooh-ee-pooh-ee, but their PR folks prefer the name"University of Indianapolis". The Muskies and Jaguars last played in December 2014 at Cintas. It was an ugly 66-43 Xavier win. IUPUI played deliberately and X showed little first half patience and led just 27-23 at the break. Freshman J.P. Macura sparked a second half Xavier surge grabbing 5 steals and XU cruised to the victory.
Jason Gardner coached that game for IUPUI He is now in his 5th season (48-77 overall record). Jason starred at PG for Lute Olsen at Arizona(almost 2,000 career points) after winning Indiana Mr Basketball while playing high school ball in Indianapolis. He played 8 years pro in Europe assisted at Loyola(Chicago) and Memphis and got the IUPUI job.
The Jags moved up to the Horizon League (NKU,Wright State, Oakland) last season from the geographically crazy Summitt League. IUPUI finished 5th at 8-10 with wins over NCAA team Wright State and perennial top dog Oakland(11-19 overall-just 2-14 on the road).They won 4 of their last 7 games. KenPom has the Jags at 286 Preseason. They are ranked 6th in the Horizon preseason poll.
Gardner is searching for a signature non-conference victory. IUPU Fort Wayne beat Indiana two years ago in Fort Wayne putting maybe the final nail in Tommy Crean's Hoosier coffin. Beating Xavier at Cintas would be by far Gardner's best win so far.
IUPUI has talent for sure with three starters returning plus four newcomer transfers. Gardner may implement that same stubborn game plan that worked decently in Cincy for a half at least four years ago. And it's Xavier's first outing with a bunch of new pieces and a starting PG coming off injury. Scratch that last item! Paul Scruggs is more than able to run the point for 30 minutes plus. He just won his second Gold Jersey as top practice player and he's been stellar without "Q" in scrimmages and the KY Wesleyan game. It's better certainly with Scruggs and Goodin as PG 1 and 1A, but XU can win this without Quentin if they have to. Maybe Wisconsin a week from Tuesday is a different story, but not IUPUI and not Evansville at Cintas Saturday afternoon. IUPUI will pressure the ball aggressively and try to force turnovers. They commit heavily to any dribble drives so Muskie passing patience should lead to a ton of great shots.
Three starters are back. 6-7 Senior Evan Hall is solid (8PPG-6REBS). 6-6 Senior Guard D.J. McCall defends well and gets steals(7PPG-4REBS). University of Toledo transfer Guard Nick Rogers had a strong finish last season. The four transfers are good players. 6-3 Wing Cameron Justice played two years at Vandy (SEC). He was Kentucky Mr. Basketball in 2015 and figures to get a lot of shots. 6-2 fire plug Guard Grant Weatherford signed with Purdue then went to a Texas Juco. He's all about hustle and physical defense. 7-1 260 pound Ahmed Ismail is from Eygpt via Juco and Manhattan College. Guard Trevor Johnson comes from an Arizona Juco. Gardner is a creative recruiter who has to battle IU, Purdue, Notre Dame, Butler and Xavier (Thank you,Travis!!) for KY and Indiana talent.
This is no pushover opener even though IUPUI is integrating new parts. Travis will have the Muskies well prepared though and neither he nor his players will be overwhelmed by the moment. Xavier 82 IUPUI 68. The score is a shot in the dark, but Xavier's future has never been brighter under Steele and from the BIG EAST platform. Also-expect a blockbuster day on November 14th when XU signs a huge and talented 2019 recruiting class.