This edition will focus on the Mastadons of Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne (IPFW). IPFW owns one of the coolest nicknames in college sports and was - until recenty - coached by former Indiana stand out Dane Fife. Fife has since moved on to the Michigan State staff, and his former assistant Tony Jasick has filled his role. The Mastadons had improved each year under Fife, from 13-18 in 2008 to last year's respectable 18-12 showing. Their history against Xavier is a little less encouraging (to IPFW fans, at least): they lost to X by 6 on 12/28/04, by 28 on 11/14/09, and then by 10 in OT last year. All of these games took place on Xavier's home court.
Last year's iteration of the 'dons was small (229th in the nation in effective height), guard oriented, and a great shooting team (52.6% effective FG%, 36th in the nation). They faced the Muskies at a time when Xavier was susceptible to the three-ball (i.e., most of the season) and almost stole a victory. Only a stout defensive effort in the last few minutes of regulation plus the overtime period, coupled with some clutch ball by Tu Holloway, allowed Xavier to escape the game intact.
This season's IPFW team will be a different beast altogether. Gone are second-leading scorer Ben Botts (13.7 PPG on .473/.449/.843 shooting), point guard Zach Plackemeier (10.2 PPG and 4.4 APG on .394/.381/.871 shooting), and 6'8" reserve forward Oleg Kovalov (10.7 MPG, 4.4 PPG). Returning to carry the banner for Coach Fife is rising junior guard Frank "Brandon" Gaines, whose propensity for going by a different name than the one given him by his parents has ESPN thinking he's two different people. Seriously, check out IPFW's roster, and then the player pages for Frank Gaines and Brandon Gaines. Beyond that, Gaines averaged 15 and 6 last year on .493/.326/.762 shooting and figures to once again lead the Mastadons' offense.
IPFW has done a pretty good job of taking care of the basketball. Since 2008, they have lost more than 20% of their possession to turnovers, and last year their 18.1% TO% was 57th in the country. They also assisted 57% of their made buckets, good for 95th. Most of this was thanks in large part to Botts and Plackemeier though, who combined for 44% of the team's assists and only 25% of its turnovers. They're both gone though, replaced by rising seniors Jeremy Mixon and John Peckinpaugh, who combined to average 12.8 PPG and 3.5 APG in 42 minutes per game last year. How well those two fill the shoes of their predecessors will go a long way towards determining how well the Mastadons play next season.
Jasick's staff also brought in rising junior Demario Hines, a 6'8" power forward from Trinity Valley community College in Texas. The lefty averaged 11.3 and 9.5 as a sophomore. Also joining the Mastadons will be 6'6" forward Mike Brigham from Mott Community College in Michigan. Brigham averaged 14 and 9 at Mott and was first-team all region last year. He and Hines should plug into the spot vacated by Oleg Kovalov.
Overall, IPFW is definitely a team in transition. Fife left the school less than a month after he signed an extension that was supposed to keep him there through 2016. Having lost their top two ball handlers and three good three-point shooters as well, it's hard to project how the Mastadons will fare this coming season. Jasick has come in and signed three transfers to restock the roster, but it's never easy to hit the ground running as a new coach. With experienced guards and increased depth, Xavier should be able to get through this early-season warmup without the tension of last year's game.