|Why is this guy not on their logo?|
The ties between Xavier and Wake Forest run deep, thanks in large part to the Skip Prosser coaching tree from which Chris Mack and the dear, departed Pat Kelsey sprung. When Coach Prosser passed away, XU and Wake agreed on a 10-year slate of games to honor his memory. This all makes the fact that Wake couldn't find room in its schedule to honor the commitment this season feel a little more like a shiv to the collective kidneys, especially considering that Xavier has been the more successful of the two programs of late. Despite all that, Mario Mercurio and his staff shrugged off the setback and added a road test against Vanderbilt to the non-conference schedule.
From a basketball perspective, this is a serious upgrade. While Wake was dreadful last year, Vandy was rock solid and made the tourny as a five seed. The Commodores have been working under Coach Kevin Stallings since 1999, he has had them in the tourny as a six seed or better in four of the last five years. Stallings does an admirable job changing his style to fit the personnel rather than trying to fit players into his preconceived plan: in the last five years alone his offense has been anywhere from 66th to 163rd in tempo, 26th to 244th in percentage of shots attempted from three, an 11th to 265th in free throw rate. His changes have been effective though; his team hasn't fallen below 88th in adjusted offense or defense in that time period, and his offense is usually in the top 25.
Vandy knocked off UNC, Belmont, Marquette (who was really good), Georgia (twice), Alabama, and UK in 2010-2011. Last year's Commodores were an offensive force, posting the 13th best adjusted efficiency in the nation while shooting .458/.371/.743 as a team. They were also 27th best in the nation in getting to the free throw line. Their turnover (19% of their possessions, 105th) and offensive rebounding (33.1% of missed shots, 144th) numbers were slightly more pedestrian but still above average. On the other end, they were great at keeping other teams from connecting, ranking 39th in nation in effective FG% defense. Their overall defensive effiency was hurt by the fact that they forced a turnover on only 17.5% of opponents' possessions, which put them at a dreadful 308th in the nation. Also, they were tall (14th in effective height) and shallow (27.5% of their minutes came off the bench), but young, losing only 5.4 minutes per game to graduation.
|Scouting reports indicate Jenkins can dunk.|
Coming back is rising junior John Jenkins, a dynamic scoring guard who led the team with 19.5 PPG on .462/.408/.894 shooting last season. He also connected on 100 threes, more than twice the output of his next closest teammate. Jenkins has also been afforded the honor of being invited to the camp for the USA's World University games team. Six-foot-seven Swede Jeffery Taylor also comes back, bringing his 14.7/5.5/2.4 on .449/.345/.719 with him. Despite being a forward, the rising senior was second on the team in assists and third in three-point field goals. Fellow rising senior Brad Tinsley was the player directly ahead of Taylor in both categories, and the PG averaged 10.6/3.7/4.6 on .436/.369/.824 shooting. Tinsley has been a starter for all three years at Vandy and runs the team pretty efficiently. Festus Ezeli is a 6'11", 255 lb Nigerian who averaged 13/6.3 last year with 2.6 blocks. Also, his name is Festus.
Coach Stallings and his staff have added two ESPN 100 guards to the mix for the upcoming season. Dai-Jon Parker is a 6'2", 185 lb shooting guard who has the capability to catch fire from deep. While his shooting can be inconsistent, he keeps himself in the game as a physical, athletic defender who can D up both guard spots. Kendren Johnson is a 6'3", 200 lb point guard with excellent court vision and a high basketball IQ. Scouting reports are generally in agreement that Johnson is a weak shooter, and questions about his ability to run a team have been posed. Six-foot-eight, 225 lb PF Shelby Moats rounds out the recruiting class. Moats is a physical player with a deft shooting touch, but he has been described as "not explosive," which is rarely flattering.
Vandy is the first team that we've looked at who is really on level pegging with Xavier. Jenkins is probably as good a perimeter scorer as X is likely to meet this year, and his size (6'4", 215 lbs) could cause matchup problems if nobody has stepped up to fill the gap between the guards and the bigs. The aforementioned Taylor and 6'9" Steve Tchiengang (.415 3P%) also have the potential to force defenders into uncomfortable matchups. Frease versus Ezeli figures to be a pretty good battle inside, though the Muskies may use the high ball screen to move the big man away from the basket. If Xavier can go into Memorial Gymnasium and take a game from a team that's showing up in a lot of preseason top 10s, it will be an impressive feather in the Muskies' cap. As with any big win, though, it's going to take a good performance from X to make it happen.