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Xavier v. Wofford: Preview

The season goes on after the destruction in the Crosstown Shootout. In the 2010-2011 season, Xavier dropped the Shootout by 20 before going on to win the conference and make the NCAA tournament. Saturday's game against Wofford is the first step in that direction this year.

Xavier hopes to go 1-1 on the week.
Xavier hopes to go 1-1 on the week.

Wofford is not a noted basketball powerhouse. They began the season with a 15-point road loss to Colorado, who is probably the best team they have faced this season. A victory over non-league Webber momentarily returned their record to .500, but losses to Ball State (ugh), Ohio, and Richmond followed soon after.

After splitting with Hampton and UNC-Wilmington over the Thanksgiving weekend, Wofford went home and knocked off Winthrop and Gardner Webb. A loss at Davidson was followed up by a win over Jacksonville, which brings us to the contest against Xavier. Of particular note for Musketeer fans is the fact that the Terriers are 3-0 at home, 1-0 at neutral sites, and a ghastly 1-6 in true road games.

Team fingerprint:
Wofford loves to chuck 'em from the cheap seats. Not a particularly elite shooting team - they only connect on 35.4% of their attempts from deep - they more than make up for that in sheer volume. Almost 42% of their shots come from beyond the arc, and only five teams in the country score a higher percentage of their total points on three-point baskets. The Terriers are abject on the offensive glass and turn the ball over on 21.4% of their possessions. Their biggest offensive struggle comes inside, where they shoot a mere 40% (325th in the nation) on two-point attempts.

Defensively, Wofford relies on forcing turnovers in the half court. They're 61st in the nation in forcing turnovers and 46th in steal percentage. They're also very stingy around the arc, allowing on 31% of opponents' attempts to come from deep and holding teams to a 26.5% 3P%. They are alarmingly bad at interior defense, allowing teams to shoot 48% from two-point range. Defensive rebounding is a strength, pulling down more than 71% of opponents' misses.

The miscellany of the team sheet yield a few interesting details. Wofford plays slowly, averaging 64 possessions a game. They are a very inexperienced (averaging less than a year of college play) and fairly thin (241st in the country in bench minutes). They are also very short in the middle, with an effective height of -1.7".

The player: 6'4", 200 pound sophomore PG Indiana Faithfull
The numbers: 3.4/2.7/4.0, .375/.429/.875 shooting
More numbers: 29.8% assist rate, 38.7% TO rate, 2.0 TO per game in 20 minutes per game
The words: Faithfull, in addition to having a unique name, loves to pass the ball. Unfortunately for his teammates, he doesn't seem particularly concerned about what team is on the receiving end of his passes. Faithfull has been in and out of the starting lineup this year, but seems as good a bet as any to get the start against Xavier.

The player: 6'1", 170 pound sophomore G Karl Cochran
The numbers: 16.8/4.0/1.6, .390/.357/.600 shooting
More numbers: 39.7% shots% (highest in nation), 12.3% TO rate, 2.5 steals per game
The words: No team in the nation has a gunner quite as prolific as Karl Cochran. He is a shameless volume shooter, though - with an offensive rating of 96.5 - not a very efficient one. He is also an effective defender, as noted by his prolific steal numbers. Cochran is also second on the team in rebounding, which is not a good sign for the team as a whole.

The player: 6'4", 200 pound freshman G Spencer Collins
The numbers: 10.3/3.0/1.2, .308/.340/.629 shooting
More numbers: 30% shots%, 27.3% usage rate
The words: If Cochran isn't shooting, chances are good that Collins is. The two of them combine to take seven out of ever ten Wofford shots while they're on the court, which is a shame, because neither of them is very good at getting the ball to go in. Collins is a staggering 20-70 from inside the arc; it boggles the mind that he is allowed to shoot so freely.

The player: 6'6", 212 pound sophomore forward Lee Skinner
The numbers: 11.5/6.7/2.2, .446/.120/.729 shooting
More numbers: Has played 86.1% of Wofford's minutes, 98.1 offensive rating
The words: Skinner is the most efficient scorer in Wofford's starting lineup, though he is still no great shakes in that department. He is 3-25 from beyond the arc, a number that would make even Jeff Robinson hesitate before pulling the trigger. Skinner is fairly aggressive on the offensive glass, pulling down almost three per game.

The player: 6'8", 250 pound junior forward Aeriss Smith
The numbers: 2.7/3.4/0.3, .538/.000/.400 shooting
More numbers: 53.8% EFG%, 8% usage rate
The words: Smith is a fairly statistically bland player. Despite his size, he doesn't rebound particularly well, alter many shots, or get very involved on the offensive end. He turns the ball over like it's coated in lava, but his sheer dearth of touches keeps his TO per game numbers low. Most incredibly, he has gotten to the line just five times all season.

John Swinton is the backup PG for Wofford. He also plays almost half the minutes and has started 5 times in their 11 games. He averages 4.2 PPG and 2.4 APG and is 6-13 from deep. Jarell Byrd is a 6'6" forward who gets 6.0 and 3.4 and is 10-26 from beyond the arc. Taylor Wagener is a senior guard who has been in and out of the active lineup all season due to injuries. He has been effective when healthy, shooting .667/.727/.800.

Three questions:
-Will Semaj take care of himself?
Coach Mack was fairly direct about his disappointment in Christon's between-game routine while on air with Byron and Joe after the Shootout. He stated that Christon's cramping problems have come from his need to stick to his diet, take his salt tablets, and get plenty of rest so he can be ready for games. With Xavier being sensationally thin in the back court, it's absolutely vital that Christon is available for long stretches of the game. The young man is going to have to grow up fast for Xavier.

-Is Dee okay? Davis was obviously fighting through some sort of lower body trouble during the Shootout, and there had been some speculation on these pages that he was fighting a nagging injury even before that. Davis' ability to handle the ball helps take some of the pressure off of Christon, and his intensity and leadership are important cogs in the Musketeer machine. If he goes down for any meaningful amount of time, Tim Whelan may end up taking a more active role in getting his dental problems fixed.

-Is Xavier ready to bounce back? After winning the Shootout last year, X went into a tailspin. On the other hand, the Muskies got hot in the 2010-2011 season after being on the receiving end of a similar whipping from UC. The 2010-2011 had enough veteran players to recover for the conference season. If such players exist on this year's squad, now is the time for them to make their presence known.

Three keys:
-Pressure the perimeter.
Wofford is shooting 37.7% from deep in their wins and only 32.9% in their losses. For a short team that relies so much on the three ball, getting their supply of open looks from beyond the arc is absolutely vital for their efforts. Xavier's perimeter defense is going to have to step up on Saturday to help them take home the win.

-Protect the ball. Wofford thrives on forcing turnovers to protect their porous interior defense. Xavier showed last time out how destructive it can be for the Muskies when a team turns up the pressure on their ballhandlers. Travis Taylor can feast on the diminutive Terriers' front line, but not if the ball never gets to him on the post.

-Pound the post. This one is fairly simple. Taylor is as tall as any of the players on the Wofford roster, and Philmore and Robinson each have the size to make a difference inside. The Musketeers were frustratingly loathe to get the ball inside, even before everything went off the rails against Cincinnati. Hopefully Coach Mack has taken steps to rectify that problem.