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Xavier v. Wright State: preview, matchups, keys to the game

Did you know Xavier had another game this week? With everyone off the court focused on the Shootout, the team has one more undercard before this weekend’s main event.

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Xavier is rolling right now. The Muskies are undefeated on the year, have resume wins already stockpiled, and are making hay in the non-conference season before dropping into one of the best conference schedules in the country. All of that success so far is just a prelude to what is coming up this weekend when Xavier hosts UC in the Crosstown Shootout. A win there and the Musketeers will retain the crown as champions of the city for another year. Before that game though, Xavier will take on another local opponent in what amounts to a final warmup before the big event.

There is no overlooking the fact that Wright State has been bad this year. Even their less than sterling 3-5 mark oversells the quality of the team: two of those wins have come against opponents outside of D1 competition. Only their season-opening victory over KenPom #210 South Dakota stands between WSU and a blank in the win column against any meaningful competition. They have lost to a very bad Cal State Northridge team, actually kind of stayed within touching distance of UK, and been run off the floor by George Mason. Less than a month ago, WSU was 126th in the Pomeroy rankings. They sit at 224th today.

Team fingerprint:

Obviously, it's not all positive for Wright State. Their defense has actually been just a tick above average, buoyed by elite defensive rebounding. Only four teams in the country have pulled down a higher percentage of opponents' misses than the Raiders. The sacrifice for that is that they're average at defending the arc and forcing turnovers and downright poor at interior defense. All of this is relatively brilliant compared to their offense...

...which is miserable. They're 294th in ORtg, thanks largely to being 350th (out of 351) in offensive rebounding and two-point FG%. They're also miserable at getting to the line and fairly poor at avoiding turnovers. They have shot the three very well as a team though, hitting 43.9% of their attempts. They get nearly half of all their points from behind the arc thanks to their combination of good shooting from there and being bad at just about everything else on offense.

Starters:

Joe Thomasson POINT GUARD EDMOND SUMNER
Senior Class Freshman
6'4", 165 Measurements 6'6", 185
11.1/5.6/4.5 Game Line 11.5/2.8/3.1
.417/.391/.909 Shooting Line .462/.412/.685
Thomasson's line is buoyed a little bit by a couple good games against below-D1 opponents, but even against competition on his own level he has a 34.1% assist rate. He is also a sensational defensive rebounder for a guard.
Grant Benzinger SHOOTING GUARD MYLES DAVIS
Sophomore Class Junior
6'3", 190 Measurements 6'2", 188
10.4/3.3/1.0 Game Line 10.9/3.4/2.9
.383/.442/.800 Shooting Line .406/.371/.917
Benzinger is your classic standing shooter. He doesn't have an offensive board against a D1 team, he doesn't get that many assists, and he never turns the ball over. Seventeen of his nineteen made threes on the year are catch-and-shoot. His game isn't dynamic, but he can't be left alone.
Mark Alstork SMALL FORWARD REMY ABELL
Sophomore Class Senior
6'5", 190 Measurements 6'4", 185
10.8/4.0/1.5 Game Line 6.9/1.5/2.0
.403/.400/.769 Shooting Line .354/.263/.842
Alstork is the team's most efficient offensive player, working a solid mid-range game and a very good stroke from beyond the arc. He's a good defensive rebounder and rarely turns the ball over. Foul trouble has been an issue for him this year.
JT Yoho POWER FORWARD TREVON BLUIETT
Senior Class Sophomore
6'6", 235 Measurements 6'6", 215
11.4/5.1/1.7 Game Line 15.1/7.8/2.3
.446/.542/.500 Shooting Line .452/.444/.654
Yoho is off to a scalding start shooting the basketball; that three-point number is on 13-24 for the year. He has been in and out of the lineup with knee injuries, but all signs point to his being ready to go today. Aside from getting buckets, he's also a solid defensive rebounder. He has shot only two free throws all year.
Michael Karena CENTER JALEN REYNOLDS
Senior Class Junior
6'10", 270 Measurements 6'10", 238
7.7/4.0/0.1 Game Line 10.4/7.0/1.1
.400/.000/.556 Shooting Line .492/.500/.733
Karena has been splitting time at C with Parker Ernsthausen, but Karena got the most recent start. He is the team's only offensive rebounder, but he's a poor shooter and turns the ball over too much. Despite his offensive troubles, Coach Billy Donlon reports that Karena's defense has been what cost him a starting job earlier in the year.


Reserves:

There's not a lot going on here. URI grad transfer Biggie Minnis is a 6'3" guard who sat out the first six games with a sprained foot. He dropped 10 on D3 Albion and was then held scoreless by Georgia State. Justin Mitchell and Mark Hughes absorb the rest of the reserve guard minutes, but their combined game line of 4.3/4.9/1.9 isn't what the Wright State faithful buy tickets to see. Parker Ernsthausen is a 6'11" freshman center who averages 2.4/1.8/0.1, shoots 38.5% from the floor and has rebounding percentages that look like they belong to Dee Davis. Reserve guard Alan Vest will come off the bench to hit the occasional three for you.


Three questions:

-Can we get good Jalen? The interior of WSU's defense is ripe for the picking by a proficient post scorer, which is exactly what we're all hoping Jalen will be. Eight games does not a season make, but the Musketeers' big man hasn't been able to stay on the court long enough to let his talent play. If he can avoid foul trouble and stay locked in against a lesser opponent, he'll be heading into the Shootout on a high. If not, look for a lot of James Farr.

-Can Xavier continue dominating on the boards? Wright State gang rebounds on the defensive end in a way that Xavier isn't likely to see for the rest of the season. Only 1 in 5 misses generally comes back as an offensive rebound against Wright State, but they will be going up against one of Xavier's offensive strengths when battling on the glass. Who wins there will go a long way towards dictating who wins the game (or at least how comfortable the margin for Xavier is, if we're being honest).

-How will Xavier set the defense? Wright State can't really score from inside and doesn't offensive rebound very well. They're below average at ball security. Basically they either shoot a three or something awful happens. Will Xavier show a more empty middle at any point in time to contest WSU's only strength? It likely won't matter in this game, but having some live action practice with a defensive look like that might benefit Xavier down the road against certain conference heavyweights who love the three ball.

Three keys:

-Check the arc. Three-point shooting is all Wright State does well right now. It's probably not lost on Xavier fans that the team is prone to allowing wide open looks from three on an alarmingly regular basis. I'm not advocating a complete loss of defensive discipline, but a team that shoots 32.8% on two-point attempts should not be allowed to have any clean three-point attempts.

-Attack the paint. Not only do the Raiders defend pretty poorly in the middle, but they are also amazingly good at letting their opponents shoot free throws. Option 1a is obviously pounding the ball in to the big men, but Xavier's slashers - particularly Edmond Sumner and JP Macura - should be ready to live at the free throw line rather than taking their chances on jump shots.

-Bury it early. Wasn't it fun to watch Xavier establish a lead against WKU and then just walk away from them? That's what we should be looking at here. Wright State has some interesting pieces, and three-point shooting can be a great equalizer, but Xavier is clearly the better team. This is a game where Tim Stainbrook should be trying to get into Coach Mack's field of vision before that last media timeout.