Ohio State and Xavier have not met on the basketball court since 1984, but the Buckeyes dealt XU a serious blow in early July by plucking head coach Thad Matta away from the Musketeers.
Less than 24 hours later, however, Xavier replaced Matta with associate head coach Sean Miller, and the optimism created after last season's Elite Eight run remains on Xavier's campus. How long it remains is the key question Miller faces, as he must welcome six new players to the team.
One thing is for sure: With an array of athletic swingmen, Miller will introduce an aggressive brand of defensive pressure not seen in three years under Matta.
"I am going to embrace the Xavier system with the fundamental ideas of being defensive-oriented," Miller said. "We will be an attacking defensive team. We've developed a strong team chemistry the two years on the defensive end."
FRONTCOURTVanderbilt transfer Brian Thornton will have the opportunity to fill the gap left by Anthony Myles' graduation. Knee surgery prevented Thornton, a 6-foot-8 junior, from practicing much with the team last season, so it may take him some time before he returns to form. He averaged 11.5 points and 5.7 rebounds and shot 52.7 percent from the field as a sophomore at Vanderbilt. After a long stretch of inactivity, he has slimmed down to his playing weight of 260 pounds, which encouraged the coaching staff.
Sophomore Brandon Cole, who lost about 15 pounds in the off-season, will be expected to continue the momentum he created at the end of last season when he began to produce at both ends of the floor. Will Caudle, a 6-9 junior, saw his minutes dwindle last season because of a throat sickness. He must improve his consistency to get on the court this season.
Lanky redshirt freshman Boubacar Coly underwent two surgeries on the same knee last year. His availability will likely be limited early in the season.
BACKCOURTWith 6-6 freshman point guard Churchill Odia, one of the most highly regarded recruits in Xavier history, the Muskies will have an explosive and deep backcourt from the first day of practice. The best three returning players on the team play on the perimeter -- Dedrick Finn (who was recently suspended for violating team rules but is expected to be back by the end of October) at the point and swingmen Justin Doellman and Justin Cage.
Josh Duncan, a 6-9 freshman, plays in the same mold as Cage and Doellman, with a little more physical body strength. Newcomer Stanley Burrell is loaded with offensive talent and can play either guard spot but is most dangerous in the open court. However, Miller needs to see him improve defensively before turning him loose and giving him major playing time.
Junior college transfer Dupree Lucas provides extra depth at point guard.
Senior Keith Jackson failed to hit a 3-point field goal last season despite averaging over 10 minutes per game. He improved his outside shooting over the summer but will have to prove it in October to be a key factor.
FINAL ANALYSISOne of the first things Miller did when he took over in July, on the first day of the summer evaluation period, was to meet with each of the current players' families. It was a need that Miller placed even above summer recruiting, simply because he felt that the players needed reassurance that Xavier's winning tradition wasn't going to change.
His actions show a belief on Miller's part that Xavier can win this year, even if it is viewed by most others as rebuilding season, with a new coach and new go-to players.
If Xavier is going to make its fourth straight NCAA tournament appearance, however, early setbacks must be dealt with successfully. Teams with this many new faces don't get to January without a few surprising losses (or wins), and how they handle those failures (or successes) often determines what happens in February and March.