When you’ve gotta stuff as many non-conference games as possible in the span between November 25th and December 12th, there isn’t much time for rest days. Xavier will be experiencing that by the time Tennessee Tech rolls into town, as it will be their fifth game in eight days after playing zero games in the previous eight months.
Fortunately, Tennessee Tech isn’t supposed to be that good. Depending on who you believe, the Golden Eagles will be not only the worst Golden Eagles on Xavier’s schedule, but the worst team on the schedule with any mascot by a wide margin. Last year, they somehow won at Winthrop. Beyond that, their best win was home to KenPom #285 Jacksonville State. By 1. At the buzzer. Despite 6/0/3 from Eli Harden. That was the cherry on top of the fairly unappetizing sundae that was a 9-22 season. The middle of the year was punctuated by a 2-13 stretch that began December 8th and ran for two solid months. Nothing that happened outside of that span was particularly compelling, either.
At the helm is none other than 1987 Kentucky Mr. Basketball John Pelphrey. He spent some time at OK State as an assistant under Eddie Sutton, joined up with Billy Donovan at Marshall and followed him to Florida, and took his first head job at South Albama in 2002. After taking them to the NCAA tournament and the NIT in consecutive years, he got hired on as head coach at Arkansas in 2007. A 69-59 record there and only one NCAA bid in four years got him the boot. After rolling back through Florida and Alabama assistant roles, he landed the lead role at Tennessee Tech prior to last season.
He played fairly quickly as a general rule at South Alabama and Arkansas, but last season he rolled out a more methodical approach. His team was mediocre on the glass at both ends, never got to the line, and chucked a TON of threes despite hitting less than a third of them. If he had an overarching defensive philosophy, it’s not immediately discernable from the numbers.
You know you’re killing it when you lose a key guy to an NAIA program, and that’s exactly what happened when Hunter Vick took his 8.2 PPG and 45 of 119 (37.8%) from three to Union University. Had he returned, he would have been the second-leading returning three-point shooter and third-leading scorer. Big wing Darius Allen was lost to the more traditional route of graduation, taking his 8.3/4.1/0.6 game line with him. He got there on .352/.302/.517 shooting, which is objectively horrible. That gruesome shooting line combined with his team-leading shots percentage makes his loss sting a bit less.
Guard Cade Crosland also graduated. He only averaged 5 PPG, but he hit 43 threes at a 36.8% success rate.
Rising junior guard Jr. Clay averaged 13.4/3.6/3.9, led the team in scoring, and was second in assists. He’s a bit loose with the ball and a below-average shooter, but he plays the passing lanes well on defense. Keishawn Davidson is a grade behind Clay and, at 6’2”, a couple of inches taller. He put up a game line of 9.0/2.7/4.4 as a freshman and is probably a bit better of a shooter than Clay. He’ll be asked to take a bigger role in the offense this year.
Tujautae Williams is a 6’5” wing who also got a lot of run as a freshman last year. He proved himself a solid rebounder, but his 42.6% EFG% was pretty miserable and he shot below 50% in 49 attempts from the line. Finally, Amadou Sylla is a 6’8” rising junior who averaged 5.9 and 5.5 last year. He crushed the glass at both ends and was the team’s most efficient offensive player, albeit in low usage.
Shandon Goldman is a 6’10” grad transfer from UNI, which means he’s immediately eligible but we can’t get mad about it on Ben Stanley’s behalf. He averaged 3.5 and 3.2 at UNI as a junior, but he had a successful stint at Panola College prior to that as a stretch big, hitting more than 40% of his threes.
Damaria Franklin also transferred in, is also immediately eligible, and - as a JuCo transfer - also did so righteously. He’s a 6’4” guard who put up a shooting line of .432/.277/.731 as a sophomore. With a game line of 19.6/6.8/3.3, he led his team scoring, rebounding, assists, and steals, with 1.9 per game.
Seven-footer Marcus Hopkins transferred in from Daytona State College. He averaged 3 and 3 despite being enormous.
Several incoming players talked about “the code” Tennessee Tech is built around that guarantees success. They’ve certainly got their work cut out for them, as their first four games include paying the athletic department’s bills with road trips to Indiana, Xavier, and Tennessee. They weren’t the worst team in the OVC last year, but they’ve certainly got a long climb to prove they can contend with Belmont at the top. It’s too early to say if Pelphrey has them trending in the right direction, but it’s possible that - after an early flameout in the head coaching ranks - he has found the right program to rebuild his resume.