After the crucible that is taking on the Tennessee Volunteers, Xavier will turn around and host Morehead State. Other than leading the NCAA in immature jokes precipitated for approximately 60 consecutive years, it has been since the time of Kenneth Faried that the Eagles have made noise on the national basketball scene. To the end of returning to those comparatively halcyon days, Morehead has made some changes over the past couple of years, and they start at the time.
Sean Woods is entering his second season as the Eagles' top man, coming off of a disappointing 15-18 showing last year. Woods improved his win total every year in his four seasons at Mississippi Valley State, but the shine comes off of that when you see that he climbed from 7 to 9 to 13 before breaking out with a 21-13 record in 2011-2012. Apparently a 50-80 career record and one 16-seed in the tournament was all the administration in Morehead needed to see to sign him up.
One thing Woods loves to do is get the ball out and go; his teams have ranked no lower than 32nd in the nation in tempo in the past three years. Perhaps concomitantly with that, his offenses have regularly treated the ball like a flaming cactus, routinely landing deep in the bottom half of the nation in TO% and hitting 340th in that category last season. Woods' teams EFG% rankings have also been poor, no doubt weighed down by the fact that he's never had a team ranked higher than 245th in the nation in 3P%. The Eagles were 5th in the country in OR% last year, but that is mostly down to the work of one man (more on him in a moment).
Defensively, there are certainly elements of a clown show present. Both at Miss. State and Morehead, Woods seems to be more than willing gamble easy baskets in return for potential turnovers. While his teams have ranked in the top 100 in TO forced three times, they've also bottomed out below 300th in EFG% the same number of times. In addition, they're also a bunch of hackers. No team sent their opponents to the line more frequently than the Eagles.
Okay, to say there were a lot of moving parts in Morehead's roster between last year and this year is something of an understatement. A staggering ten players who saw time for last year's team are not listed on this year's squad. We'll start with the graduates, which include leading scorer Milton Chavis. The 6'6" wing took a higher percentage of the team's shots than anyone else on his way to 11.1/3.8/0.8 on .460/.337/.652 shooting. He wasn't a blindingly efficient scorer, but it's tough to replace someone who took almost 30% of your shots when he was on the floor.
Guard Devon Atkinson also graduated (or at least ran out of eligibility); the team will miss his 7.6/1.5/5.1 on .418/.425/.800 shooting more sore than his 2.9 TO per game. He assisted a third of his teammates' buckets when he was on the court, but his TO rate as a staggering 32%. He wasn't the team's most prolific three-point shooter, but he was certainly its most efficient at 31-73 from deep. Big-bodied forward Khalil Owens put up 6.1 and 4.9 in just 14 minutes per game but posted a gruesome 41.8% mark from the free throw stripe. Jason Holmes and his 2.7/1.8/0.2 line round out the departures via graduation.
On the transfer front forward Jourdan Stickler is moving on to his post-graduation life, taking a shooting line of .391/.286/.833 and 10 minutes per game with him out the door. Guards Cordell James and Taariq Muhammed, who combined for 39 appearances between them, are also low-leverage departures for Coach Woods' squad. Six-foot-seven forward Bruce Reed - already a JuCo transfer, decided the NAIA was more his speed and packed up his 3.6/2.5/0.9 on .520/.400/.725 to head for Pikeville College. Guard Jarret Stokes got 16 minutes per game despite shooting .314/.282/.875 and doing almost nothing statistically noteworthy, but he decided his lofty talents didn't fit at MSU and also packed his bags.
Rounding out the travelling team is 6'8", 215-pound forward Maurice Lewis-Briggs, who is heading to George Mason. He put up 8.3/5.1/0.8 on .442/.231/.703 shooting before succumbing to injury after having played in just 17 games. He is going to be immediately eligible for his senior year at GMU; of all the players moving out of Morehead, Lewis-Briggs is likely to be the one who hurt the most to lose.
The team brings back exactly two players who appeared in every game last season. One of those is the gloriously named Chad Posthumus, who sounds like a character from a "graphic novel" desperately trying to be made into a film. The 6'11", 270-pound rising senior was one of the best rebounders in the nation last year, putting up 18.3%/26% OReb%/DReb% last year on his way to 7.5/6.8/0.4 per game. His shooting line of .495/.000/.557 is pretty bad for a guy who is nearly seven feet tall and lives in the paint. The other 33-game man for MSU was Bakari Turner, a 6'4", 190-pound rising senior wing. He is the team's most prolific returning shooter, but his .392/.304/.659 shooting line - dragged down by a touchless 38-125 from long range - really hampered his efficiency.
The top returning scorer is 6'3", 200-pound rising junior Angelo Warner. He stuffed the stat line to the tune of 10.9/4.4/2.5 on .429/.348/.829 shooting and also added a steal% of 3.6% (115th in the country) for good measure. Rounding out the meaningful returnees is Drew Kelly, a 6'7", 235-pound forward going into his senior year. Kelly posted 7.1/3.5/0.9 last year and inexplicably shot 47 threes despite making just 13 of them and being the team's second-best offensive rebounder.
As you might expect, there is a glut of new faces on the team sheet for the Eagles. We'll start with DeAndre Leatherwood, a 6'10", 185-pound (!) transfer from Prince George's CC in Maryland. Leatherwood averaged 7.5 and 8.2 at Prince George's last season despite being so thin as to be nearly two-dimensional. Big man Billy Reader, a 6'10", 260-pound center who averaged 10.6 and 6.2 with 1.2 blocks per game at Southern Idaho also joins via the community college ranks. Rounding out the JuCo transfers are Reader's Southern Idaho teammate 5'10" guard Kareem Storey - who averaged 8.0/2.6/3.4 last year - and 6'3" guard Luka Pajkovic, who scored 6.3 PPG on .402/.324/.606 shooting for Brevard CC last season.
After taking their respective redshirt years for transferring, Brent Arrington and Karam Mashour are eligible to play this season. Arrington is a 6'3", 180-pound guard who put up 6.8 and 2.7 for Mississippi Valley State as a freshman, including 33 on 12-18 from the floor against UNC. Mashour is a 6'6" wing who put up 1.5 and 1.2 in 13 games for UNLV. The junior hails from Nazareth, which is interesting if not particularly applicable.
Finally, the Eagles added a couple of freshman to the roster. Aary Bibens is a 6'4" guard who averaged 20 and 11 as a senior in high school. He has a knack for attacking the basket and rebounds well for a guard. Greg Dotson is a 6'5" forward who put up 16.2 and 6.3 with 2.1 blocks per game. He has a high motor and specializes in attacking in the open court and getting to the offensive glass. His game lacks polish, though, and he especially needs to improve his shooting mechanics and handle with his weak hand. His game is predicated purely on effort and athleticism at this point.
You want to give a coach some time to forge a program in his own image before passing judgment on his progress, but Woods has a lot going on here. With ten players leaving, eight newly eligible, three sitting out a transfer year, and one preferred walk-on who we didn't even mention, there is almost no continuity between last year's roster and this year's. If you thought Xavier's program was in flux, take comfort in noting that there are team with bigger question marks out there. If Woods can pull everything together (it will be a miracle), this team has a chance to make some noise in their conference. In seems more likely, though, that the noise comes from 100 moving parts trying to find a way to fall into order.