By Paul Casey Gotham
Setting: Batten down the hatches as Jeff Bzdelik brings his Wake Forest Demon Deacons (6-4) north to the Cintas Center for a tilt with Chris Mack and his Xavier Musketeers (7-2).
Plot: Atlantic Coast Conference meets Atlantic 10 in the second annual Skip Prosser Classic. The late Prosser coached both programs.
After starting 2-3, Wake Forest has taken four of five, but Bzdelik crew needs consistency. The Deacs have wins over Iowa, Hampton, and most recently, UNC-Greensboro. Losses to UNC-Wilmington and Stetson are cause for concern.
Fans of the Muskies should not be surprised by the team’s two defeats. Xavier had three losses this time a year ago.
Sub-plot: Wake Forest freshman, Melvin Tabb, was recently re-instated to the lineup after taking time to address academic concerns. After sitting out a year due to his transfer from Georgetown, Nikita Mescheriakov made his debut two games ago for the Deacs. The red-shirt junior came off the bench and scored seven points with four rebounds.
The Muskies continue to evolve after the graduation of Jason Love and departure of Jordan Crawford.
Xavier has Gonzaga, Florida, and Cincinnati in the near future. Wake tussles with Gonzaga and Richmond in the next two weeks.
Flashback: “Call me” Ishmael Smith scored a career-high 28 points, and Al-Farouq Aminu added 26 with 17 rebounds as the Demon Deacons took a double-overtime thriller a year ago, 96-92 at the Joel Coliseum. Saturday’s night’s meeting is the third between the inter-conference rivals with each school taking one. The Muskies downed the Deacs in the second round of the 1999 NIT Tournament, 87-76.
Wake Forest has punched 22 tickets to the NCAA tournament including an appearance in the 1962 National Semi-finals and Elite Eight showings in ’39, ’61, ’77, ’84 and ’96. Seven different coaches have led the Musketeers to 21 NCAA tournament appearances including Eight Eight showings in ’04 and ’08.
Foreshadowing: Twenty-seven Deacs have moved on to careers in the National Basketball Association including currently Al-Farouq Aminu, Tim Duncan, Josh Howard, James Johnson, Chris Paul, Darius Songaila and Jeff Teague. Seventeen Musketeers have suited up in the National Basketball Association including current stars Derrick Brown, Jordan Crawford, James Posey and David West.
Conflict: Wake Forest averages 74 ppg while allowing 73. Freshman, Travis McKie leads a quintet of Deacs in double figures with more than 13 and a half points. Ari Stewart and J.T. Terrell also chip in 13 apiece. Gary Clark adds 11.8 and C.J. Harris gets 10.8.
Clark has hit 20-30 from behind the arc. Stewart and Terrell have hit 17 and 18 from long range.
Xavier is 4-1 when holding opponents under 70. The Muskies score 69.2 and give up 67.1. Last time out, the X-Men showed they can go toe-to-toe in a defensive battle beating national runner-up Butler, 51-49. But the targets were easy to find – Shelvin Mack from the perimeter, stop the dribble of Ronald Nored and take away Matt Howard. Wake has a variety of weapons.
Can Xavier make this a half-court game?
Xavier has struggled against the 2-3 zone. Will Wake go away from man-to-man?
The good news for Xavier fans is that Tu Holloway leads the team with 22.3 ppg. The bad news for Xavier fans is that Tu Holloway leads the team with 22.3 ppg.
The Musketeers have struggled to establish an offensive identity. Besides Love and Crawford, Xavier lost 3pt. specialist Brad Redford for the season with an injured knee. Senior forward, Jamel McLean then broke a bone in his eye socket. McLean is playing with protective goggles but is not 100 percent. Redford’s loss creates spacing problems. His absence is noticed most when the Musketeers lack a player capable of knocking down a 3 in transition.
Holloway is Xavier’s best three-point threat. The junior point guard needs a teammate to open the floor.
Mark Lyons might be the candidate. The red-shirt sophomore, though, has only hit 10-35 from long range. He is averaging 16.5 over the last four contests. Lyons is also handing out 3.5 apg.
McLean averages 10.4 ppg and 9.9 rpg. The senior is difficult to keep away from the offensive glass leading with 23 offensive boards.
Kenny Frease can provide a spark. The junior recorded a double-double (12p/10r)in the win over Butler. He averages 10.6 ppg and 7.9rpg. He has developed an effective jump hook, but his conditioning (or lack thereof) is a problem late in games.
Dante Jackson gets 7.5ppg and 2.9rpg. The senior is the team’s best all-around defender.
Jeff Robinson has shown flashes of brilliance.
Resolution: Both teams enter play with a rebound margin of just +1. Xavier has established that stat against a tougher schedule. Wake has been hitting from the field at a rate of 46 percent. Xavier will trim that number with a stiff defensive performance. The Deacs will struggle to keep Xavier off the glass in particular McLean. The senior forward has shown a tendency to rise to the occasion. Saturday’s game will be no different. McLean will record his fourth double-double of the season, and the Muskies will win a close one.