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Xavier v. Wake Forest: Preview, matchups, keys to the game

A Wake Forest team on the rise under Danny Manning comes to Cintas to take on Xavier.

Wake Forest Demon Deacons v N.C. State Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

This game takes place in a situation unlike any other in college sports. These two teams meet not because either needs the boost, both are playing in conferences where they will get more than enough opportunities for that, but in memory of a coach that helped shape both programs. Skip Prosser won 148 games as a coach at Xavier and another 126 with Wake Forest before his death after a morning run. Coach Prosser was so beloved that funeral masses were held in both in North Carolina and Ohio. Nine years later, this game is the way both universities have chosen to honor the man.

When Xavier went to Wake last year, Danny Manning’s charges were at least a year away. Now, that year has come. Wake got boatraced by Nova and lost a close game to Northwestern, but is undefeated otherwise. Their most recent win was over UNC Greensboro, but prior to that their tour of tobacco country has seen them beating old A10 teams in Richmond and Charlotte.

Team fingerprint:

The Demon Deacons get by on offense. It’s not contrived either, it’s just flat out good shooting. The Deacs shoot 38.8% behind the arc, 54% inside it, and 77% from the line. All of those numbers are in the top 50 in the nation. When Wake does miss, they grab a rather pedestrian 33% of those errant shots. Combine that with an 18.6% turnover rate and you have an offense that is excellent when it gets a clean look, less so before and after that moment.

Defensively, Wake doesn’t force turnovers and doesn’t seal the glass off well. What they do very well is not foul. Only 27% of field goal attempts against them lead to free throws. Given the way that Xavier has been shooting recently, that may not be bad news. That number is made the more impressive because Wake lands 67th in the nation with a 12% block rate. Evidently, they challenge shots without making much contact. What doesn’t get blocked, though, has a tendency to go in. Teams shoot almost 35% from deep against against the Deacons and shoot 49.5% inside the arc. That’s not cataclysmically bad, but it isn’t good either.

Starters:

Bryant Crawford Point Guard Edmond Sumner
Sophomore Class Sophomore
6'3", 200 Measurements 6'6", 186
13.1/3.3/5.8 Game line 14.2/4.3/4.3
.471/.289/.750 Shooting line .453/.227/.707
This guy can really play point guard. His 37.1% assist rate is 31st in the nation, and he has more than respectable turnover numbers. In addition, he's a good finisher and has a polished and effective mid-range game. His three-point shooting is a work in progress, but that's kind of gilding the lily on the production he's giving Wake right now.
Mitchell Wilbekin Shooting Guard JP Macura
Junior Class Junior
6'2", 175 Measurements 6'5", 203
7.5/1.3/2.1 Game line 15/4.1/3.1
.393/.389/.895 Shooting line .393/.339/.895
Wake doesn't ask a lot of Wilbekin offensively beyond keeping the plays moving and shooting threes. He's only 8-20 from inside the arc this year, but he's 14-36 from beyond it. He rarely turns the ball over and even more rarely commits fouls. Catch, shoot, repeat.
Austin Arians Small Forward Malcom Bernard
Senior Class Senior
6'6", 230 Measurements 6'6", 202
8.9/2.2/0.9 Game line 5.0/4.6/1.1
.484/.426/.900 Shooting line .353/.357/.364
A grad transfer from Milwaukee, Arians is making the most of his senior year. His usage rate is only 13.9%, but he is scoring the ball really efficiently from all three levels. Three quarters of his shots are catch-and-shoot three point attempts though; he may be able to score at the rim, but he's out there to launch and he apparently knows it.
John Collins Power Forward Trevon Bluiett
Sophomore Class Junior
6'10", 235 Measurements 6'6", 215
18/10.7/0.3 Game line 19.2/5.6/2.3
.647/.000/.686 Shooting line .434/.347/.827
You almost feel like this guy is going to get paid to play someday. He's a top ten rebounder at both ends of the court, shoots 78% at the rim and 48% from the midrange, and draws almost 9 fouls per 40 minutes. He also never turns the ball over and blocks a ton of shots. He can be a bit prone to foul trouble, but he's otherwise bulletproof.
Konstantinos Mitoglou Center RaShid Gaston
Junior Class Senior
6'10", 255 Measurements 6'9", 239
10.4/6.8/1 Game line 7.3/7.5/0.7
.400/.310/.854 Shooting line .547/.000/.517
Mitoglou is an effective rebounder and decent rim protector, but he's still searching for his offensive game. He doesn't finish well, and his decent two-point jumper success rate is mitigated by the fact that he only shoots one of them per game. Heck of a free throw shooter though.

Reserves:

The biggest one here is 6’3” G/F Keyshawn Woods. He’s going for a cool 13.3/4.2/3.0 on .566/.559/.833 shooting right now, and that three-point number is on nearly three attempts per game. He can really fill it up off the bench.

Things get decidedly more average after Woods, with freshman PG Brandon Childress going for 5.9/2.1/2.6 on an EFG% of 37.7% and 7’1” C Doral Moore getting just 2.7/2.5/0.1 and committing a foul every five minutes.

Three questions:

- Can Xavier take advantage? Wake doesn’t defend particularly well. Xavier doesn’t shoot particularly well. While Myles Davis isn’t walking through that door (yet), it would be nice for Xavier to find someone who can knock down shots. Trevon Bluiett is stepping in to fill that role, but a team shooting performance surely would look nice.

- Free throws? Don’t @ me, or the players, but Xavier really sucks at these right now. Sadly, that 71% against Utah really looks good right now. That’s not a sign that a team is shooting well. I’m 100% certain that the team is working on them, and I’m equally well aware that that game and gym free throws aren’t the same thing. All that said, Xavier need to start making their free throws.

- Will Xavier keep hammering the glass? This season’s team is snaring rebounds at even a higher rate than last year’s Jalmes Farrnolds led squad, which was the highest since 2003. The rebounding is a large reason why Xavier is winning right now and it’s certainly a place where they have a large edge over Wake.

Three keys:

- Make some shots: Xavier shot 47% from deep against Utah, but only 46% inside the arc. Sean O’Mara, Malcolm Bernard, and JP were all pretty useless inside against the Utes and even with the great outside shooting, X is still only shooting 32% on the year. The shots will be there against Wake, making some would be nice.

- Don’t get blocked: For a team sporting no rotation player shorter than 6-4 Quentin Goodin, Xavier spends a lot of time getting swatted. Almost 11% of the time that a Musketeer goes up with the ball, it doesn’t continue on toward the rim. Wake presents yet another team that will chase shots, a shot fake or two might not hurt.

- Finish a game: Against Utah, X led by eight at the half and had, ten minutes later, extended that lead to eight. After another ten minutes the lead had grown to eight. The second halves against Baylor and Colorado follow a similar pattern of getting a lead and then never stepping on the throat of an opponent. The Musketeers let Utah back into the game and were fortunate they couldn’t hit a big shot when they needed it. That may not be the case against Wake.