Xavier v. Abilene Christian: Preview

Parker Wentz is but a wee lad. - Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

Before their trip to the Bahamas for the Battle4Atlantis, Xavier must address the formality of a campus-site game against Abilene Christian.

The beat went on for Xavier last week, as they overcame a feeble first ten minutes or so to run away from Miami through the middle portion of the game. The Muskies improved to 4-0 on the season, reaching that mark with aplomb and looking every bit like the squad to start a new run of NCAA tournament successes. Before the ball went up against Gardner Webb, Ken Pomeroy had X as the 57th-best team in the country. Just over two weeks later, he has them sitting at 35th. A good KenPom ranking does not always guarantee a tournament bid, but it's also not a bad indicator.

Standing next in Xavier's path is Abilene Christian, a program paticipating in its first year in the top flight of NCAA basketball. The Wildcats have had something of a bumpy road, opening their year with 5 losses to Division 1 teams by an average of nearly 30 points per game. They have since righted the ship with wins over Western and Northern New Mexico, neither of which enjoys Division 1 status at this time. The transition to a new division is rarely an easy one, and the ACU team figures to take its share of licks in the upcoming year.

Team fingerprint:
Bad. I don't mean to be glib, but this is a team that managed to lose a 70-possession game by 62 points. Defensively, it should be noted that teams have shot poorly (29.4%) from behind the arc against Abilene; if you attribute that to good defense more than good luck, there you go. Other than that, they have been bad defending the glass, bad forcing turnovers, and even worse at defending the paint. Teams are shooting more than 60% from two-point range and seeing only 2.1% of their shots blocked; ACU simply can't really keep the other team from doing what it wants to.

On the other end of the floor, it's kind of worse. Abilene Christian shoots a ton of threes - more than 40% of their field goal attempts come from beyond the arc - but only connects on 31.4% of them. They're shooting 34% from inside the arc and sitting at 320th in the country in TO%. They are putting up a 69.5% mark from the stripe, which Xavier would be glad to have right now. It's pretty much all red ink on their KenPom page.

The Wildcats are also saddled with a fairly thin bench (250th in bench minutes), which doesn't help things. They're also very young and very short, giving up 1.4" in effective height to the average team. It's also worth noting that their defensive positions are only an average of 13.6 seconds long. Teams score easily against Abilene, and they score early.

Starters:
The player: 5'10", 190-pound junior guard LaDarrien Williams
The numbers: 11.6/4.4/3.0 on .356/.211/.735 shooting
More numbers: 26.2% usage rate, 42.9% FG% at the rim, 17.5% DReb%
The words: Why is a 5'10" guard getting so many rebounds? Beyond that, Williams is mediocre at getting to the rim and very bad at finishing once he finds himself there. His 39.4% on two-point jumpers isn't bad, but he takes way too many of his shots (45.2% of his FGA) from that range. With an assist rate of 30.3%, it's clear that he's not entirely bad at making decisions on the offensive end, just bad when it comes to deciding when he should shooting.

The player: 6'0", 175-pound junior guard Harrison Hawkins
The numbers: 11.0/3.1/2.9 on .284/.343/.900 shooting
More numbers: 79.6 ORtg, 27.4% usage rate, 26.0% assist rate
The words: Hawkins is not an extremely bad shooter, but he is extremely bad at shot selection. He is miserable at the rim (18.2% FG%) and one two-point jumpers (23.8%). He hits a very respectable 34.3% of his threes despite shooting two thirds of them directly off the bounce. He's also hitting 90% of his free throws, which brings me back to the initial point: he isn't a bad shooter, he's just bad at picking his shots. He's way too much like Williams in that regard.

The player: 5'9", 160-pound sophomore guard Parker Wentz
The numbers: 9.4/2.4/1.8 on .447/.444/.727 shooting
More numbers: 62.7% EFG%, 2.8% steal%, 115.2 ORtg
The words: In addition to his duties as bassist for Fall Out Boy, Wentz is far and away the most efficient member of the Wildcats' starting backcourt. Wentz is a catch-and-shoot guy from deep and bangs them when he's left open. He's also a pest on the defensive end, leading the team with 10 steals. Despite his penchant for actually making shots, he has a usage rate of just 13.9% and is perhaps the only player on the schedule over who Dee Davis will be able to tower.

The player: 6'7", 210-pound sophomore guard Austin Cooke
The numbers: 8.0/6.9/1.1 on .340/.375/.750 shooting
More numbers: 10.7% OReb%, 15.9% usage rate, 26.7% shooting on two-point FG
The words: To his credit, Cooke seems to have recognized that he's not a very good two-point shooter. Nearly 70% of his shots come from behind the arc, where he's a much more effective shooter. His offensive rebounding prowess is let down by the fact that he is shooting 33.3% on putbacks. I try not to editorialize too much when I write these, but that blows my mind. Anyway, Cooke is the team's best rebounder, so good on him for the effort.

The player: 6'10", 235-pound junior forward Jacob Lancaster
The numbers: 5.3/3.4/0.3 on .517/.000/.700 shooting
More numbers: 13 minutes per game, 23.9% DReb%, 7.1% block%
The words: Lancaster is the closest thing the Wildcats have to a true big man, and it's a mystery to me why he doesn't get more minutes than he does. He gets called for a staggering 6.2 fouls per 40 minutes, but in his limited playing time that works out to right about 2 fouls per game. He is also the only player on the team with the ability to alter a shot, blocking six in his limited minutes. He's an above-average mid-range shooter, has started five of the team's seven games, and disappears after just over a quarter of the minutes are gone. I'm sure there's a reason, but it's not immediately clear to me what that might be.

Reserves:
Julian Edmonson is a 6'1", 195-pound junior guard who comes off the bench and shoots until the coach has to pull him. He takes a higher percentage of shots while on the floor than any player on the team, despite shooting an appalling .231/.188/.600 to get his 6 points per game. Riley Payne is a 6'5", 200-pound freshman wing who has picked up a couple of starts on the year; he is averaging 2.9 and 2.3 on .471/.000/.667 shooting in almost 20 minutes per game. Nobody else on the pine really does much for the Wildcats so far this year.

Three questions:
-Who can go?
No sooner are Justin Martin and Dee Davis up to full strength than Isaiah Philmore spends the entire game in his warmup garb with a wrist injury. Word around Cintas was that the injury wasn't serious and his absence was precautionary, but it would be nice to see the whole squad match fit before heading down to play three games that will tip off in a span of anywhere between 42 and 50 hours. Seeing the whole roster get some run tonight would be nice.

-Can James Farr keep it rolling? Farr is off to a blazing start, but I hardly think even his most stringent apologist would believe that he is going to continue to be one of the best reserve big men in the nation. A lot of what he is doing is coming down to having a great motor on the glass and hitting his open jumpers. If he can keep doing those two things, the sky is the limit for him this year.

-How was your weekend? I mean, it's Abilene Christian. If Xavier doesn't run away and hide on this team, that's a really bad sign.

Three keys:
-Roll.
Iowa beat these guys by 62. If Xavier has aspirations towards big things in the Bahamas, they could do worse than sending a message in this game. It's not entirely necessary to open up a can for 40 minutes in a game like this one, but it would set a lot of Muskie fans at greater ease to see Xavier come out and blow the doors off of an inferior opponent from the tip off rather than taking ten minutes to get up through the gears.

-Execute from the line. Self-evident and almost a compulsory add to the preview at this point. Whether opponent is good, bad, or indifferent, fifteen feet is fifteen feet. I don't know what is going to happen in the Battle 4 Atlantis, but I do know that it would behoove Xavier to head down there with a lot of confidence in their ability to not gag away a game from the free throw stripe.

-Stay healthy. Xavier could start me and Tim Whalen in the back court and still have no business not winning this game. Please, for the love of all that is righteous, don't let anyone get hurt.

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