Kissimmee, Fla. – It will be a matchup of two teams facing vastly different expectations this season when Xavier takes on Missouri at 1 p.m. ET Thursday in the opening round of the Tire Pros Invitational at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. The game will be broadcast on ESPNU.
After going 28-6 last season, including a 78-66 victory over Missouri, Xavier is considered to be a legitimate national championship contender this season. The Musketeers began the season ranked No. 7 nationally, and they have two players – junior guard Trevon Bluiett and sophomore guard Edmond Sumner – on the initial 50-player watch list for the 2017 Naismith Men’s College Player of the Year award. Rarely have the Musketeers been this highly touted, but Xavier head coach Chris Mack said he believes his team can handle the lofty expectations, despite a shaky 84-81 victory over Leigh last Friday in the season opener.
“It will be interesting. I think that will be a tell-tale sign of how mature this group is,” Mack said. “We have some older players who are used to having a business-like attitude. They come to practice every single day wanting to get better, knowing where we need to get better. So I don’t worry about the attention. Hopefully I’ve explained to our team enough that all that stuff outside of what we do within the lines is really irrelevant.
“It’s nice that people talk about you. It certainly helps in recruiting. I know the fans get excited. But it’s really about what we do between the lines every day in practice, and then ultimately we’ll get judged on game night. I think we have experienced players who understand that.”
Meanwhile, Missouri is coming off a 10-21 season in which they went 3-15 in the Southeastern Conference for the second consecutive season. But third-year head coach Kim Anderson said he believes his team is poised for improvement this season.
“This is a group that wants to get better. They want to work hard. And most importantly, they want to be coached,” Anderson said. “We’re trying to build a program. We’re not just trying to build one team. It’s been difficult. It’s a challenge, but I love the challenge.”
The Tigers got the season off to a good start on Sunday , as freshman guard Frankie Hughes scored 23 points to lead Missouri to a 99-44 victory over Alabama A&M. Hughes scored 16 points on 6-of-7 shooting in the second half, tying Steve Stipanovich’s record for the highest-scoring debut by a Missouri freshman.