The most wonderful time of the year begins today, as early season college basketball tournaments mean that you can watch college basketball as early as 11:30 a.m. beginning today. The Xavier Musketeers will get their Charleston Classic experience underway this evening against the Towson Tigers (2-2) and it’s a game they need to win for NCAA Tournament purposes.
The Charleston Classic has a solid field, but its clear that the tournament has a clear top-4 teams: Xavier, UCONN, Florida, and Miami. While it’s a field without a dominate team (Florida, with losses to Florida State and UCONN, has been a massive disappointment), it’s also a field that could yield no quality wins for a Musketeer team that doesn’t play a ranked team in non-conference play.
While a rematch with Missouri State would be riveting, a loss to Towson means that Xavier likely plays Buffalo before either St. Joseph’s or Missouri State. A win and suddenly Xavier is playing UCONN and Florida, two potentially Quad 1 wins come March. Towson nearly knocked off the Gators in Gainesville, so they aren’t a pushover.
Record: (2-2), Kenpom: 146th (of 353)
Offense: 78 ppg, 49.2%, 34.6%, 73.8%, Kenpom: 120th
Defense: 59.8 ppg, Kenpom: 185th
Head Coach: Pat Skerry, 9th season (126-139). Misleading record, as he went 1-31 his first season before leading Towson to winning records five of the next six seasons until a 12-20 mark last season.
Series History: First meeting
While the Tigers may not have a high-quality win thus far, they’ve acquitted themselves well in every game this season. A season-opening win against George Washington is still the best moment, though close losses to Kent State (112th in Kenpom) and at Florida are nothing to sneeze at. While they have no defining characteristics, they should be a tough out for the Musketeers.
Throwing out the stats from a 100-31 win over DIII Bryn Athyn College yields a much clear picture of the outfit that Skerry will run out against the Musketeers since several benchwarmers led the team in scoring against the overmatched foe.
Senior guard Brian Fobbs is the Tigers best player, though he’s off to a bit of a slow start. After averaging 17.8 ppg shooting 37.4% from three in his first season at Towson following a JUCO career, Fobbs is averaging just 13.5 ppg and is 0-15 from downtown. In addition to scoring, he’s also grabbing 5.3 rpg.
Beyond Fobbs, the Tigers have three guys that are averaging double figures on the strength of their three point shooting (a fourth guy is averaging 17 ppg, but did that in his only action against BAC). Sophomore guard Allen Bertrand has started all four games, averaging 12.8 ppg on 37.5% three-point shooting. Off the bench, r-Jr. forward Juwan Gray is at 10.8 ppg (6-10 from deep), 4.8 rpg, and 4 blocks while freshman guard Jason Gibson has 10.2 ppg and 36.8% from downtown.
Towson contrasts with most of Xavier prior opponents by having a handful of quality shooters that the Musketeers will need to worry about. There may be another, as last season’s second-leading scorer Tobias Howard (10.2 ppg) has yet to play in a game this season. There are no hints on the internet on whether he will return for the game tonight, but adding him will just add to the bevy of weapons Skerry has at his disposal.
- Without a doubt, Xavier’s biggest struggle this year has been from beyond the arc. Shooting just 20.9% (good for 352nd of 353), just about every shooter is performing below their standard. r-Jr. forward shot 34.3% last year for Ohio, he’s at 20% this season. r.-Sr. guard Bryce Moore was at 39% for Western Michigan in 2017-18, he’s at 33.3% this year. Junior guard Paul Scruggs has gone from 37.5% to 23.5%. Junior forward Naji Marshall went from 27.7% to 13.3% while senior guard Quentin Goodin has gone from from 29.8% to 26.7%.
- While some regression to the mean will be help in its own right, Xavier should be getting some help soon in the form of freshman guard Kyky Tandy. Xavier coach Travis Steele said that the touted recruit will likely begin to practice while the team is Charleston, though he likely won’t play. He has been recovering from a foot/ankle injury that occurred in practice.
- While the Musketeers have their own shooting woes, their opponents haven’t fared much better. Xavier’s opponents are just 20-78 (25.6%) from deep, good for 38th-best in the nation. While the eye test indicates that Xavier’s defense has a large role in its opponents’ struggles, none of their opponents thus far rank in the top-half of DI in terms of three-point percentage (MIssouri State comes the closest, their 32.5% is 190th of 353). Towson is shooting 34.6%, good for 129th.
Time: 7 p.m.
Place: TD Arena, Charleston, SC
Line: Xavier -9.5, 132.5 o/u
So far this season, I’ve been correct picking Xavier’s opponent and the under for every game. Tonight, I’ll go with the opposite. Facing an opponent who shoots well (plus getting out of Cintas Center) leads to Xavier warming up from outside just enough. Despite generally low scoring games thus far, Xavier hasn’t played at a slow tempo. They turn this one into a race and are able to overwhelm the Tigers inside while showing that their perimeter defense holds up even against teams that shoot well. Xavier wins comfortably while scoring enough to hit the over.
Xavier 78 Towson 64
Bonus Charleston Classic Picks
Before getting to the pick, there’s one interesting quirk about this season’s Charleston Classic field: almost everyone has played another team in the field. Only Miami and Buffalo have yet to play another team. UCONN has played both Florida and St.Joe’s while Florida has played UCONN and Towson. Every team who has played another is on the opposite side of the bracket, so we may not see any rematches.
- Miami v. Missouri State (Miami -7): The Bears (2-2) are reeling from a blown opportunity to beat Xavier at Cintas Center, as a controversial flopping tech took a foul on a three-pointer to Xavier free throws and the ball the other way. Miami (2-2) has played two games against worthwhile foes and split them, getting destroyed by No. 2 Louisville to begin the season but beating UCF 79-70. Miami isn’t a bad team, but Missouri State is no slouch and will look to get Miami into a rock fight (the o/u of 132 reflects this). Lean MOST +7 and consider taking them +260 on the moneyline.
- Florida v. St.Joseph’s (UF -14): Every game has been a relative struggle for Florida (2-2) thus far and the preseason No. 6 has already dropped out of the rankings. St. Joe’s has been inconsistent but has at least had the high of beating UCONN (a win over Bradley isn’t terrible either) balancing out the lows of getting soundly beaten by Old Dominion and Loyola (IL). For a team in the Gators who are averaging 62.5 ppg, 14 points is too much. Go with St. Joe’s. Despite St. Joe’s struggling on defense, an o/u of 147.5 seems entirely too high.
- UCONN v. Buffalo (UCONN -4): As mentioned earlier, UCONN has both beaten Florida while losing to St. Joe’s. While Buffalo has dominated the MAC the last few years, the departure of coach Nate Oats to Alabama leaves them with more questions than answers. Their performance this year reflects that: they beat a solid Harvard team but lost to a mediocre Dartmouth squad. Take UCONN and look forward to a future Big East battle between the Huskies and the Musketeers.