By Andy Mac Williams, 3/20/2019

Xavier hosts the Toledo Rockets Wednesday evening at Cintas in Round 1 of the NIT(7pm Tip-ESPN3). It's XU's first NIT appearance since 2000. TU lost in NIT Round 1 at Southern Miss in 2014. Toledo is very talented w/ size(front line 6-11, 6-8 and 6-6) experience( 3 Seniors who are major contributors) and 3 point sniping ability(38% from three-10 made 3s/game-long range shooters at all 5 positions on the floor). 9th year head coach Todd Kowalczyk has assembled a terrific deep roster. TU went 25-7 overall going 12-1 in the non-conference w/ the lone lose at Wright State then won the MAC West at 13-5.

Top rebounder and glue guy Willie Jackson played just 8 minutes in the MAC Tourney Quarterfinals last Thursday in Cleveland(migraine headache) and the Rockets were upset by Northern Illinois in a 2-7 game.

TU seemed on target to play MAC Champ Buffalo for the automatic NCAA bid again. Toledo lost to Buffalo last March w/ an NCAA trip on the line. The Bulls have ruled the MAC lately(31-3 Top 25 this season and #6 NCAA Seed-4 NCAAs in 5 years despite losing coach Bobby Hurley to Arizona State). Toledo just picked the wrong time to dress its best teams in decades.


Former Xavier star guard Jeff Massey is a TU assistant coach Mass played Junior College in the Toledo area and averaged 13 and 19PPG in his two Muskie seasons(1993-94 and 1994-95). Jeff worked under former XU assistant Mark Schmidt for several seasons at St Bonaventure. TU forward Willie Jackson transferred from Missouri. He played against Xavier in a 2017 Thanksgiving Tourney in Orlando.

Mark Ehlen coached both Xavier and Toledo women's basketball to NCAA berths after taking Forest Park HS to an Ohio Title in 1984.

Travis Steele is very familiar w/ many Toledo players through his Xavier recruiting duties. Steele's brother John Groce is now head coach at Akron in the Mac and lost twice this season to TU.

XU has not played TU since November 2008(Sean Miller's last Xavier season). The Muskies won at Cintas 81-65.


Toledo had won 5 in a row before being upset by Northern Illinois in the MAC Tournament. 6-4 Sr. guard Jaelan Sanford is 1st Team All MAC(15.3PPG). 6-1 Soph Marreon Jackson is the PG(12PPG-4 assists). 6-8 Sr Nate Navigato is the MAC's all time 3 point scorer. 6-6 Jr Wille Jackson starts at PF(9PPG-9 Rebounds).

The Center is 6-11 245pound Soph Luke Knapke(11PPG-7 rebounds). 6th man is 6-1 Senior sniper Chris Darrington(9PPG).

TU plays 8 guys. They average 77PPG and give up 68. The Rockets pound the glass(plus 8/ game in rebounding) and shoot FTs at 77%(12th in NCAA).

The longer NIT 3 point line(22 plus feet-the FIBA-international distance) may be an adjustment for this 3 point dependent offense? X will have to deal w/ the wider NBA 16 foot lane for NIT games. The Muskies thrive on post-ups and drives which are harder to execute vs the wider paint.

X is 12-5 at Cintas w/ 4 BIG EAST losses plus Wisconsin the the non-conference. X has won 7 of the last 9 allowing just 65PPG and stalking the three point arc.

Everybody's ready to play. Both Naji Marshall and Tyrique Jones were full practice participants Monday and Tuesday.

We assume TU's Willie Jackson has recovered from the migraine that slowed him at the MAC Tournament. Toledo got some Top 25 votes during the season. Two of their 7 losses were to powerful Buffalo. TU finished 58th in the NCAA NET-higher than Xavier.

How Toledo w/ their loaded roster and resume rated just a 6 NIT seed is puzzling? Should be a high caliber ball game!

If Xavier wins, they play the Texas-South Dakota State winner(2 vs 7). They play Tuesday night at 9EDT on ESPN). The details on a potential 2nd round game are TBD.

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