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Know your non-conference opponent: Western Carolina

Skip Prosser’s son coaches a team deep in returnees, but shallow in talent.

NCAA Basketball: Western Carolina at North Carolina
Adam Sledd features in the purple of Western Carolina.
Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

The last, and only, time Xavier played the Western Carolina Catamounts, they rolled to a 95-61 victory. The box score from 2006 reads like a trip down memory lane. Justin Doellman led the team in scoring, Justin Cage in rebounds, and Drew Lavender chipped in six assists. There are some fun stats in there, too. Johnny Wolf dished out seven assists, Kevin Waymire started, and Adrion Graves played 19 minutes and took the most shots of his college career.

Almost exactly 13 years later, WCU represents much the same type of opponent for the Musketeers. Last season, the Catamounts beat only six division one opponents and finished 7-25. They got obliterated by High Point, took Furman to the wire, but mostly just lost a lot. Mark Prosser, son of Skip, coaches the team that led basketball in turnover rate last year.

After the Shootout and Skip Prosser Classic and before a genuinely difficult matchup with TCU and the start of the Big East slate, WCU represents something of a palette cleanser for Xavier. In the very cruelest of terms, this is a buy game for the Musketeers. In all rational worlds the Catamounts represent a team that Big East teams pay for the chance to notch another one in the win column.

Key Departures:

Evidently one thing that Skip and Mark Prosser have in common is retaining talent. Despite going 7-25 and not even sniffing a signature win, Prosser kept his top five players in both minutes and points scored. Mark Gosselin is gone, but he was a graduating senior. Gosselin was efficient around the basket and rebounded well. Josh Cottrell is the only other double digit minute player to depart. Cottrell was a solid 37% three point shooter but elected to take his talents to the well named North Georgia Nighthawks of Division II.

Key Returnees:

Carlos Dotson, a 6-7 power forward, is the most important player coming back for the Catamounts. He’s the most important because he led the team in points and rebounds. And blocks. And steals. And field goal percentage. Only a nearly crippling for a big man 24.4% turnover rate keeps Dotson from being one of those low major studs that garners attention. 6-1 guard Matt Halvorsen led the team in minutes and assists and was a respectable 35% three point shooter, but also turned the ball over way too much. From the team that turned the ball over more frequently than any other DI program, that’s probably to be expected.

Forward Onno Stenger, guard Kameron Gibson, and guard Marcus Thomas make up the rest of the returning front line players. Gibson had the lowest turnover rate at 19.1%, not a single other player on the team, regardless of whether they played just four games or played in them all, had a turnover rate below 20%. Returning the core of a growing program is obviously good for Prosser, but he’ll need to teach them which team to throw the ball to.

Incoming Players:

Nick Evtimov, a 6-8 forward, is the jewel of the recruiting class and the only member who merits more than two stars. Nick is the son of Vassil Evtimov, whom you may (but almost certainly don’t) remember from the North Carolina teams of the late 90s. Vassil has played for both the Bulgarian and French national teams. Nick fits the somewhat stereotypical mold of a European pick and pop four. WCU’s recruiting beyond that is the type of guys you find at programs like WCU, far better than almost anyone who reads this will have ever played with or against, nowhere near the level of Naji Marshall and Paul Scruggs.

Outlook:

Everyone important is back, but they aren’t all that good. Such is life on the low level. Prosser has demonstrated that he can keep a team together, but this is a stepping stone for him and this game is a stepping stone for Xavier.