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Xavier v. Western Carolina Preview: NET’s No. 71 returns to the court

Xavier should roll WCU, right?

NCAA Basketball: Cincinnati at Xavier Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

When the NCAA’s first NET rankings of the season earlier debuted with Xavier at 71st earlier this week, Travis Steele was in disbelief.

“There’s no rhyme or reason,” the second-year Musketeer coach said. “I did a deep dive into it until about 4 a.m. and so you start looking into and it’s like you’ve got a team ranked 20 or 21 or whatever it is in the country. They don’t have one tier one win.”

“It makes no sense and they won’t disclose anything. There needs to be transparency. I think that’s very clear.”

Shortly after the release, Xavier Associate Athletic Director for Basketball and scheduling-czar Mario Mercurio fired off several since-deleted tweets ridiculing the system and the NCAA’s botched handling of it (the spreadsheet released had a ton of errors). For a guy who made a living gaming the RPI, the new, incomprehensible system is making it a challenge to create a schedule set for the Musketeers to get into the Tournament.

While their performance hasn’t helped matters, the Musketeers’ low-ranking has much to do with matters outside of their control. Preseason No. 6 Florida has been drastically worse than expected while Cincinnati, Missouri State, and Siena were expected to be good mid-majors but haven’t panned out yet. It isn’t Xavier’s fault that the system sees Xavier’s schedule for what it is.

Meanwhile, Xavier’s best win came in double-OT on a neutral court against Net No. 70 Uconn. It took a horrendous call to pull out the game against Missouri State while the games against Missouri and Uconn were only salvages after deep three-point attempts by Naji Marshall uncharacteristically went in the basket. The Musketeers can’t sit here and definitively claim that they are not the 71st-best team in college basketball based on their performance this year.

Fortunately, Steele knows that the Big East will help rectify Xavier’s weak strength of schedule.

“We’re going to have a lot of opportunities moving forward,” Steele said Tuesday. “ We’ve got a lot of big games you can you there, all the tier one games.”

“It’s not going to really affect us moving forward, but there needs to be transparency and I don’t know they won’t give that.”


Meet the Catamounts

Record: 7-2 (170th of 353 in KenPom)

Coach: Mark Prosser, 2nd season (14-27 overall)

Series History: Xavier leads 1-0

Key Figures: Per Game, Rank of 353 Nationally (Xavier’s corresponding number)

PPG: 79.8, 24th (74, 102nd)

PAPG: 75.6, 281st (64.4, 79th)

3PT%: 36.3%, 54th (28.0%, 319th)

KenPom adjusted Tempo: 72.0, 72nd (70.6, 134th)

WCU Player Stats (figures per game)

Player G GS MP FG% 3P% FT% ORB DRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS
Player G GS MP FG% 3P% FT% ORB DRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS
Mason Faulkner 9 9 34.8 43.6% 37.9% 74.0% 0.8 4.7 6.2 1.6 0.0 3.0 2.3 19.8
Carlos Dotson 9 9 26.2 63.4% 48.9% 2.9 6.8 1.4 0.6 0.2 2.9 3.0 14.1
Matt Halvorsen 9 9 33.7 41.7% 39.3% 70.0% 0.2 2.4 1.7 0.9 0.0 0.9 1.8 10.1
Onno Steger 9 9 29.1 36.8% 32.6% 80.0% 1.4 4.0 1.6 0.9 0.6 2.4 2.3 10.0
Kameron Gibson 9 9 25.7 38.0% 33.3% 87.5% 0.3 2.1 0.8 0.2 0.0 1.1 2.2 8.4
Marcus Thomas 7 0 15.7 60.6% 41.7% 75.0% 0.7 1.7 0.3 0.3 0.1 1.1 2.4 7.3
Xavier Cork 9 0 12.2 65.0% 0.0% 53.8% 1.4 0.9 0.1 0.0 0.7 1.1 1.7 3.7
Tyler Harris 9 0 11.0 44.0% 37.5% 77.8% 0.9 1.6 0.4 0.3 0.2 0.3 0.4 3.6
Adam Sledd 4 0 5.0 80.0% 100.0% 0.8 0.5 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.8 2.5
Travion McCray 9 0 13.9 19.2% 7.1% 80.0% 0.2 1.1 0.9 0.4 0.1 0.7 1.4 1.7

Western Carolina probably won’t help Xavier’s NET ranking too much but they are much-improved from a year ago. Head coach Mark Prosser, Skip’s son, went 7-25 in his first year in-charge, a win total that the Catamounts have already matched this season. The Catamounts seemed to be very good for a small conference team as their only two losses were on-the-road against Georgia and a tight loss at Florida State. They’ve played one common opponent with Xavier, needing double-OT to beat a Jacksonville team that the Musketeers easily handled. They aren’t bad, but Xavier should still roll.

NKU-transfer Mason Faulkner has been the star for the Catamounts thus far, averaging 19.8 ppg, 5.4 rbg, and 6.2 apg in his first season at WCU. The 6’1” guard will likely get the Bryce Moore-treatment. Down-low 6’7” 265-lb Carlos Dotson will be a load to handle. As Xavier just got overwhelmed by a group of guys who all weighed less than 205-lbs, he’ll probably beat his 14.1 ppg and 9.1 rbg averages.

Sophomore guard Kameron Gibson will get a homecoming game roughly a mile from alma-mater Walnut Hills High School. The 6’3’ guard is averaging 8.3 ppg.


Game Information

Time/Place: 6:30 p.m. ET at Cintas Center, Cincinnati, OH

TV: FS1

Line: Xavier -16

Total: 147

Prediction

One would think that after getting handled by a team they had no business losing to, Xavier would come out firing and would dominate a lesser opponent. It just seems like this team struggles to stay focused. They play generally play hard, but can’t combine that with solid game awareness.

On offense, you have a super-efficient Paul Scruggs who still passes up too many open looks and a fairly-efficient back-up freshman center in Zach Freemantle. Everyone else is terribly inefficient with a true shooting percentage of 55% or worse. Scruggs should’ve been this team’s superstar for a season-and-a-half now and while his 30 points (on just 19 shots!) against Wake was a good sign, he plays as though he’s a role player. It’s hard to see how a team that persistently loses focus and has only one efficient option will get its act together. Expect Western Carolina to hang around and score enough to cover.

Xavier: 76, Western Carolina 63