BY MICHAEL PERRY
The Cincinnati Enquirer
This will be a different kind of opener for the Xavier basketball team.
The past two seasons, the Musketeers had four or five returning starters. Much of last year's team was playing together for the third year.
But when XU opens tonight at Butler (7 p.m.), there will likely be four new starters, including two freshmen and one sophomore, and several newcomers playing lots of minutes.
"There's much more of a fear of the unknown," coach Skip Prosser said. "Last year, you pretty much knew what you were going to get each time out, and now there's some appprehension about that.
"But I'm anxious to see how we play. I think we'll play very hard, I think we'll make some mistakes, I think we'll be nervous. ... At the same token, we're not going to lower our expectations."
The Musketeers are ranked No. 16 in the country, the second straight season they begin as a top-25 team.
XU at BUTLER
When: 7 p.m. today|
Where: Hinkle Fieldhouse (11,043), Indianapolis
Records: XU 0-0, Butler 0-1
Radio: WLW-AM (700)
The ranking is partially because of three returning seniors - James Posey, Gary Lumpkin and Lenny Brown. Its part because of the success of the past two seasons (45-14) and the program's reputation.
All of which means little to guys like freshman Alvin Brown, who is expected to start tonight at shooting guard in place of Lenny Brown, who has been out with a foot injury but will play.
Or freshman Lloyd Price, the highest-ranking recruit in Xavier history, who will start at small forward.
Or 6-foot-10 center Reggie Butler, who gets his first career start.
"It's a big opportunity for me to show some things," Butler said. "We've got the good backcourt. Now we've got to show that our frontcourt can compete with anybody's. That's the X-factor. That's how you want it. That's what you live for - somebody saying you can't do something and then you prove to them you can."
Xavier's preseason progress has been slowed by injuries to Brown and junior center Obi Harris, out with a broken finger.
In two exhibition games, the Musketeers' full-court pressure defense has been porous at times, allowing opponents easy baskets in transition.
The level of competition only gets better now.
Part of the problem is simply inexperience. Some of it is players not knowing how hard they have to play to make the press work. Some of it is a lack of communication.
"A lot of guys don't understand what it takes yet," Posey said. "It's up to me and the seniors to let them know it's totally different than the exhibition games.
"I know we're not going to play a perfect game. We're going to have a lot of possessions, turnovers, but I think the most important thing is to continue to play hard and outwork them and outhustle them and we'll be fine."
Turnovers have been a problem in the preseason, particularly unforced errors. The newer players also have to start making better decisions.
"We've got to be ready. we've got no choice but to be ready," Butler said.
"We need to shore up just about everything," Prosser said. The Bulldogs, who lost 93-66 to XU last year, want to slow down the game. Again tonight, Xavier wants to get the game going fast, not allowing Butler to run its offense.
"If we let them dictate the tempo and run their stuff, they'll run their stuff better than we'll guard it," Prosser said.
Butler lost its season-opener Saturday night against Southwest Missouri State 72-57. It is going to be a roller coaster ride for the Bulldogs for a while, with five first-year starters.
The biggest threat for the Bulldogs is junior Mike Marshall, a St. Xavier High School graduate who had 15 points and 11 rebounds in their opener.
Coach Barry Collier lost five seniors who had won 79 games over a four-year period, including two NCAA Tournament berths.
One of the keys tonight will be freshman point guard Thomas Jackson, who will face Xavier's full-court pressure for the first time. Jackson was 0-of-5 from the field with six turnovers against SW Missouri State.
"It's been a real challenge," Collier said. "I think we'll be the kind of team that makes progess all year long."
"I really like the effort our guys are giving and good things happen when you have that."
Oden says no to Xavier
As expected, recruit John Oden did not choose to attend Xavier. Oden, of Phoenix, signed with DePaul on Monday, choosing the Blue Demons over Xavier and Massachusetts. The Musketeers are awaiting a signed letter of intent from point guard Lionel Chalmers, who has orally committed.