Early season tournaments have been something of a mixed bag for the Xavier Musketeers. In 2014 they lost all three games in their Thanksgiving tournament, in 2015 it was losses to UTEP and Long Beach State. In 2016 Xavier flipped the script and obliterated Dayton in a tournament final made all the more delicious by Dayton’s refusal to schedule the Musketeers. In 2017 came three wins and the bizarre back to back with Northern Iowa. In 2018 Xavier picked up a good win over Baylor but also got run off the court by an Arizona State team in the midst of a torrid stretch of great basketball. Last year was another disaster.
This season fires up their Thanksgiving tournament the week before the holiday. Those of accustomed to watching basketball in half empty arenas while hanging out with kith and kin will perhaps be forced into watching football instead. The Musketeers get the little bonus of actually being home for the holiday. This year the first game comes against Towson, a team, like Missouri State, somewhere between a buy game and a true non-conference test.
On offense Towson cares for the ball well and is excellent (78.2%) from the line. They also shoot 13% better than Xavier from behind the arc, but that’s not really anything to write home about. The Tigers grind possessions out, force the ball into the post as much as possible, and don’t move the ball terribly well. They’re good inside, and they lean into that.
Defensively the Tigers are solid at forcing teams to only one shot. Unfortunately for them, they don’t defend those shots well at all, don’t turn teams over while they look for that shot, and don’t block many of those shots. If you miss Towson is pretty good at grabbing it, but there’s also a pretty good chance you won’t miss.
Towson has some size. Point guard Brian Fobbs is 6-5 and is primarily out there to keep the ball moving. Fobbs was a 36.8% three point shooter last year but has started this season 0-14. Jakigh Dotton starts opposite him and is elite at moving the ball without turning it over, collecting 13 assists to only two turnovers so far this year. Allen Betrand plays the swing and is capable inside the lane and on the defensive glass, but isn’t much of a shooter. At 6-5, 200, he’s a powerfully built forward. Charles Thompson starts at 6-7, but only gets around 20 minutes per game, likely because of foul trouble and an inability to throw the ball to the right team. Thompson currently turns it over 39.4% of the time he touches it. Finally, 6-9 senior Dennis Tunstall is a very efficient scorer who is good on the offensive glass and also capable of stepping out and knocking down a three.
Off the bench Jason Gibson will spell Fobbs and Dotton and is a 41% three point shooter. 6-8 junior Juwan Gray is 5-6 from behind the arc and is an accomplished shot blocker. Nakye Sanders will play and block shots, but his time is limited due to averaging a frankly impressive 11.2 fouls per 40 minutes.
- Will Xavier ever make some threes? We’re going to keep asking this until it either happens or becomes a lost cause. X doesn’t take an inordinate amount of threes, but they take enough that making some is vital.
- If shots aren’t falling, where does offense come from? Recently Xavier has watched teams pack a zone, take away the post, and dare them to shoot from deep. This has turned into two pathetic offensive showings against teams from Missouri. If shots don’t fall, Xavier has to find a way to scheme the ball to Zach Freemantle and Tyrique Jones in the post.
- Is the defense really this good? Over the last 15 games stretching back to last season, Xavier is playing elite defense. Towson may not represent a significant challenge to that, but they have some floor stretching bigs. If X is really as good as they have looked recently, the Tigers should go down as another team to score less than a point per possession.
- Take care of the ball: Towson will slow this game to a crawl and not turn the ball over on their end if they can. That makes it incumbent on Xavier’s sputtering offense to not waste possessions. If they don’t, they’ll work themselves into another unnecessarily close game.
- Turn the Tigers over: If Towson can’t work themselves into a place where they can feed the post, they’ll just hold the ball. If Xavier can pressure turnovers and get offense going with easy points, they’ll force Towson well out of anything resembling a comfort zone.
- Make some three pointers: Please.