They are actually going to play this game. Yes, after the Twitter meltdown of Xavier Nation after the first leg of the Skip Prosser Classic, it has come to light that the season will not actually be canceled. Xavier is taking on Western Carolina as scheduled. That means Mark Prosser will get to coach at the school where his dad left an indelible mark. That he’ll do it on a court bearing Skip’s name will make it all the better.
The Catamounts come into this game on a five game winner that includes a 24 point rolling of NAIA school Bryan College. Most recently, WCU knocked off UNC Asheville by one at home on Saturday. The Catamounts went to Florida State back on the 15th of November and only lost by five, so they are capable of punching with anyone on their day. That’s largely because of do it all junior guard Mason Faulkner who has one triple double already this season and carries an enormous load for WCU. More on him later.
Xavier comes into this game after what may be their worst showing of the season depending on what you thought of the Missouri game. The Musketeers gotten beaten up defensively by a Wake Forest offense that isn’t very good and was missing its best player. On the other end, Paul Scruggs was amazing but the offense didn’t get on track until a furious late charge that came up just short. These things happen on the road and this was Xavier’s first road test, but they will surely be looking to cleanse the palette as soon as possible.
Western Carolina is on the high side of mediocre offensively. They shoot the ball fairly well, get to the line more than all but 28 teams in the nation, and more than hold their own on the offensive glass. All of that would speak to a good offense if they didn’t also turn the ball over on fully 20% of their possessions, get blocked more than almost any other team, and only shoot 68% from the stripe. The pieces are there if they can be put together.
Defensively the Catamounts are just flat out bad. They defend the arc well (29.4% allowed) but are below average in literally every other defensive measure. That includes blocks, where they are 316th in the nation, and steals, where they are 331st. Toss in a portion of getting pummeled on the offensive glass and you have the recipe for the 252nd best defense in the nation. Jacksonville, the same one Xavier held to 57 points, got them for 94.
|Mason Faulkner||Point Guard||Quentin Goodin|
|6'1", 181||Measurements||6'4", 194|
|Faulkner is a do-everything guard who distributes really well and hits the defensive glass. He'll dribble into an astonishing number of threes for a guy as accurate as he is; he's not doing much catch-and-shoot. His mid-range game is almost non-existent; he has made four two-point jumpers all year. If he isn't pulling up from three, he's going all the way to the rim. He draws a lot of fouls on the way there and is a reasonable free throw shooter.|
|Matt Halvorsen||Shooting Guard||Paul Scruggs|
|6'1", 174||Measurements||6'4", 196|
|This guy is almost a purely catch-and-shoot threat. He pretty much just hangs around the arc looking to pull. Like most shooters, he doesn't have a high assist or turnover rate. A career 35% three-point shooter, he shoots just 30% from deep against tier A and B competition, per KenPom.|
|Kameron Gibson||Small Forward||Naji Marshall|
|6'3", 186||Measurements||6'7", 222|
|Gibson was good for 13.6 per game last year as a freshman, but his volume and efficiency are both down so far this season. He did drop 15 on 6-10 shooting against Florida State though, so it's probably just a matter of finding his stride again. He doesn't affect the game a lot when he's not scoring, and he's got his work cut out to matchup with Naji tonight.|
|Onno Steger||Power Forward||Jason Carter|
|6'5", 205||Measurements||6'8", 227|
|Steger is one of just two Catamounts with a better DReb% that Mason Faulkner, the team's PG and shortest rotation player. Probably not ideal. Like his opposite number, he is a really good free throw shooter currently struggling to get the ball through the rim in live action.|
|Carlos Dotson||Center||Tyrique Jones|
|6'7", 270||Measurements||6'9", 239|
|What a load this guy is. He uses his significant inertia to great effect, crushing the glass at both ends and scoring reliably around the rim. He also has a solid mid-range game, which is kind of surprising considering he's a coin toss at the line. What isn't surprising is that he draws - and commits - a ton of fouls.|
The Catamounts aren’t deep. Only 23.6% of their minutes come off the bench, which puts them in the bottom 50 in the nation. Marcus Thomas leads the bench charge and clocks about 15 minutes per contest. He’s a 6-3 swingman with an assist rate of only 2.2% to go against his 22.5% turnover rate. He makes up for that by shooting a casual 60.6% from the floor, 41.7% from deep, and scoring 7.3 points per game. He would play more if not committing seven fouls per 40 minutes. Travion McCray is another reserve guard who turns the ball over a lot, but he only shoots 19.2% (not a typo) from the floor. He’ll log decent minutes, as well Xavier Cork. Cork is a 6-9 reserve big who is a menace on the offensive glass, blocks shots, and is skilled near the rim. Cork also commits enough fouls to foul out in the NBA and turns it over more than a quarter of the time he touches it. Finally, Tyler Harris will also play double digit minutes. He’s a 6-7 freshman wing who isn’t a walking turnover but also hasn’t yet found his way offensively.
- Will Xavier change anything? It’s not profound to say that Xavier’s offense has been uninspiring so far this season. The WCU defense shouldn’t present much of a challenge, so it will be interesting to see if Travis Steele changes up the actions to get the ball moving a bit more. If this game looks like a testing ground for new plays or new lineups it will be an indication that Steele knows his time to get things ironed out is rapidly waning.
- Where are the freshman? Daniel Ramsey has played once, KyKy Tandy has yet to see real time, and Dahmir Bishop has DNP’d two of the last three games. Zach Freemantle has been better than expected, but the rest of Xavier’s vaunted recruiting class has produced precious little. Like with the offense, the time for blooding new players is coming to an end.
- How will the Musketeers handle adversity? The last time Xavier lost they came back home and bludgeoned Lipscomb, The loss to Wake felt different than the one to Florida did, though, and it left the Musketeers looking a little unsettled. TCU on the road awaits and a good showing against a bad team would go a long way toward making the non-conference feel more like a success.
- Contain Mason Faulkner: Faulkner can hurt you in a variety of ways. He leads his team in points, assists, and steals and is second in rebounding. Only Bryan has held Faulkner under ten points this year and the stat line from that game suggests that the point guard spent most of it looking for teammates. Faulkner is going to get his, Xavier just needs to make sure he doesn’t get it to the tune of the 31/6/6 he did against Chattanooga.
- Pound the post: The only thing that WCU does well on defense is defend the arc. The thing Xavier does worst on offense is shoot behind the arc. There’s an argument to be made here that the Catamounts weaknesses play right into the Musketeers strengths. If there is a game that is crying out for another look at Tyrique Jones matched up with a post player named Zach, this is it.
- Find some depth: Xavier is seven deep at this point. After Bryce Moore and Zach Freemantle, the Musketeers have no bench players getting even 15 minutes per game. Dah Bishop averages 13 when he’s available, but the next guy in terms of minutes played per game he’s appeared in is Leighton Schrand. Someone has to step up and offer this team something, or the horses are going to get tired.