We're back again for a second dose of Xavier's non-conference foes. As is often the case among schools not in the Big Six conferences, Xavier's postseason resume is often forged in the months before the conference season begins. Xavier's basketball brain trust met with Joe Lunardi in 2005 to revamp Xavier's scheduling process in order to give the Muskies the most favorable resume possible. Presumably, this year's schedule is an outcome of that meeting.
Up next on our travels through Xavier's still unreleased schedule are the Bears of Morgan State. XU will face Morgan State at Cintas this year. The Bears finished 17-14 last year and - and I can't put too fine a point on this - are a dreadful basketball team. The inimitable Ken Pomeroy placed them at 249th in the nation last year. The year before that they were 158th and even snuck into the tournament to get baked by West Virginia. Before that they hovered around the 200 mark in the Pomeroy ratings. Morgan State has historically been the kind of team you play to pad your record, not boost your strength of schedule.
Despite that, there are reasons to be alert when Morgan State rolls into town. They had only two seniors who played any meaningful minutes last season, and they combined to average 6.4-4.7-0.6 in 22.9 MPG. Returning is leading scorer and rising junior Dewayne Jackson, whose stat-stuffing line of 14.5-4.6-1.4 also came with 1.4 steals and .7 blocks per game. The 6'8" forward shot .405/.261/.738 on the year, which is somewhere south of good. Kevin Thompson added 13.1-9.1-1.1 and 1.3 blocks per game. At 6'9", he is Morgan State's tallest returning player. At .520/.000/.597, his shooting line is grim. Aric Brooks' 10.2 PPG on .361/.309/.792 round out the Bears' double-digit scorers.
Therein lies the proverbial rub with Morgan State. While they were 16th best in offensive rebound percentage and 26th best at getting to the line last year, they were an awful, awful shooting team. As a team they shot .420/.296/.681, and the two graduating players combined to shoot .488 from the floor. They were 204th in the nation from the line, 250th from inside the arc, and 332nd from beyond it. Awful.
To offset that, the Bears play an aggressive man defense. While it doesn't lift them to being a great (or even good) basketball team, it does make them respectable. Their defense was in the top 100 last year in effective FG% and forcing turnovers and the top 50 in defending beyond the arc. Owing to being a little over-sized (37th in the nation in effective height), they controlled the paint and the defensive boards at an above average clip. They were too awful at shooting for it to matter though.
Todd Bozeman, the Bears' head coach, has done what he can to adjust for that. Since 2007, the team has never been worse that 35th in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage, never taken more than 27.5% of their shots from behind the arc (a rate generally good for right around 300th in the nation), and have always (but for 2007) been in the top 100 in defensive effective FG%. In other words, they've done everything a bad shooting team can do to be effective. The fact that the same team has had the same problem for five years is just kind of baffling.
Coach Bozeman and his staff have gone out to correct that though. They've brought in SG Jeremy Canty (no relation that I'm aware of) to shoot. In high school, he was known for his jump shot from both inside and outside the arc, and any translation of that to the NCAA level would be much appreciated by Morgan St. They also added Shaquille Duncan, a 6'9", 205 lb (!) forward known more for his jumper than his ability to bang in the post. Neither player is exactly one-and-done (or even four-and-done) material, but both should be effective if given time to develop.
At the end of the day, Morgan State is a typical low-major team. They have put together decent runs in the past - most recently appearances in the 2009 and 2010 tournaments - but they don't appear to have the punch of teams further up the ladder, like VCU, George Mason, and ultimately Xavier. They'll play Xavier tough defensively, get after the offensive glass, and generally fly around the court and make trouble. Xavier's size and skill should prove too much for the Bears though, and this game should be no more than a tune-up for the Muskies.