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Preview: Tiger Basketball vs. Eastern

Head Coach Kevin Klein has had trouble with the Eagles in the past few years. | Photo by Jacob Hayslip

Head Coach Kevin Klein has had trouble with the Eagles in the past few years. | Photo by Jacob Hayslip

Today, Saint Xavier Basketball begins the most important week in the regular season.  It will travel to Eastern High School to take on the Eagles, a team it has struggled with as of late.  Let’s see how this matchup breaks down.

What Happened Last Time

In one word, Eastern has been able to get the best of the Tigers recently because of shooting.  The last time St. X traveled to Eastern, then-senior Eagle guard Jordan Brangers lit up heavily-favored St. X for 26 points.  He accumulated most of those points draining outside shots.  The next year, Eastern came into the Br. John Wills Arena and again upended St. X, this time in OT.  The catalyst for that victory: another sharpshooting guard.  Now-senior Eastern guard Cameron Reed, who is signed to play basketball next season at the University of New Orleans, burned the Tigers for 25 points.  On the first possession of that game, Reed stroked a three from NBA range, turned to the St. X bench, and put up the “shush” finger to his lips; he backed it up, once again proving that he gets up for big games.

Keys for St. X

There are two areas where the Tigers need to focus on in this game: turnovers and perimeter defense.  Taking care of the ball has been an issue all season for St. X, and it can’t afford to be loose and careless with the ball in this one, as Eastern features several quick, water-bug guards who will swipe for pilfers every time they smell blood.  As I previously wrote, it is well-documented that Eastern has killed the Tigers with outside shooting, and St. X will have to learn from history if it wants to break the current losing streak to the Eagles.  Cameron Reed is still in a blue and white jersey, and he still has a killer instinct.

One development that will be intriguing to watch is the pace of the game.  Eastern is chock full of speed and athleticism (not to mention, five of Eastern’s top eight players are sophomores–guys who go 110% at all times and haven’t yet figured out how to manage their energy) and loves to press and speed up the game.  If St. X plays into the Eagles’ hands and attempts to match the speed, turnovers could become a major issue.  St. X wants to push, but more often than not, it ends up running set plays in a halfcourt offense.  Can the Tigers play at full throttle without spinning out of control?  We haven’t seen anything that proves they can, but tonight will be a nice test.

Fortunately for St. X, it has a player very much like Reed in senior guard Ashanti Burgess, and he has been on an offensive tear lately.  He has dropped 19 or more in each of the last five games, accompanied with over 50% field goal percentage.  When I asked him about playing against big time players like Reed, he answered, “They put their shoes on just like me.  I am athletic and can score to.”  That he can.  He has been laser focused lately, and if he can carry this run into tonight, we could be in for a show.  However, St. X will more than likely need more offense than just a 20-point game from Burgess.  Your guess is as good as mine as to where that extra production will come from.  Lucas Miller, C.J. Shanklin, and Will Olsen are more than capable of exploding, but the extra scoring could also come from a couple extra buckets from role guys like Nick Kitchen or Billy Basham.

Keep your eye out for this Trey Moses-Miller matchup on defense as well.  Miller already has experience guarding elite size and athleticism, as he checked Trinity’s Raymond Spalding for two games with significant success.  But Moses is a different kind of animal; he doesn’t have Spalding’s freakish athleticism, and he won’t block ten shots in a game.  But Moses is much more developed and skilled on the offensive end, which I will get into more later.  If Miller can lock up Moses, it will put a lot of pressure on Reed to carry the Eagle offense.

The Tigers are currently on a two-game winning streak after victories against Fairdale and Seneca last week.  Beginning this monumental week with a win over a fantastic team in their own region could prove to be the springboard for a team who has finally figured out its roles within the team, according to Burgess.

Senior center Trey Moses (guarding former Tiger guard Robert Shaw) is the anchor of the Eagles. | Photo by Jacob Hayslip

Senior center Trey Moses (guarding former Tiger guard Robert Shaw) is the anchor of the Eagles. | Photo by Jacob Hayslip

Keys for Eastern

As you may have deduced, Eastern begins and ends with Moses and Reed.  Reed (18.2 ppg) and Moses (14.5 ppg) account for more than half of the Eagles’ 63.1 points per game, and they do it from all areas on the floor.  Reed is an outstanding isolation player, using his elite ball handling skills and decisive moves to create space for his shot.  Reed is shifty; he can get to any spot on the court he wants.  He can pull up from anywhere on the floor and is a great finisher at the rim.  When you foul him, he makes you pay by shooting over eighty percent at the charity stripe.

Reed is also a great distributor as the ballhandler in a pick and roll.  Reed-Moses pick and rolls are deadly, due most in part to Moses’ shooting ability, which I will get to in a bit.  Reed is great at drawing defenses in and then flipping it to Moses or sophomore Jonathon Lane for an easy bucket or kick it out to another guard for a wide-open three.  The bottom line is that Reed is dangerous anytime the ball is in his hands; he’s dangerous without the ball, too, because you can’t come off of him at all to help.

Moses is also a lethal weapon on offense.  The Ball State signee has a great feel for the game; he’s developed a ton since St. X last squared off with him.  When he’s not mixing it up with pick and rolls or pick and pops, he has that uncanny ability of finding the little, open pockets in a defense that create problems.  He hasn’t used it much this season (4-10 3FG), but he has a nice jumpshot that extends out to beyond the three-point line.  He’s a beast with his back to the basket, utilizing an impressive arsenal of moves with both hands.  That’s the part of the game that Miller didn’t have to deal with guarding Spalding; Spalding doesn’t post up.  Moses does post up, and he knows what to do with the pumpkin when he gets his hands on it.  Moses has a great sense of where offensive rebounds will fall and scores a lot of points on putbacks.

One aspect of Moses’ game that most don’t think about enough, in my opinion, is his passing.  He’s Pau Gasol-like in the sense that he can catch the ball at the elbow and see the entire court in front of him and deliver on point bounce passes to cutters.  Most bigs don’t have that vision at all, let alone in high school.  In last year’s game, Moses got into foul trouble early and was never able to get into a rhythm.  That’s his one noticeable weakness; if you’re physical with him, you can get him to let go of some of the force he plays with.

Besides those two, Eastern is very young, and that youth is exactly what you’d think it is–speedy, athletic, but not fundamental.  Sophomore guard Sugar Ray Wyche is a defensive menace as an on-ball defender, but he doesn’t have definitive offensive skills.  Similarly, Lane’s physicality is intimidating; he’s a big, strong pit bull who fights inside on both ends to try and lessen the load on Moses.  But he doesn’t have anything specific in his game that makes you fear him.  If you box out Lane inside and cut off driving lanes for Wyche, you effectively make them net-zero players on offense.

That being said, you can’t underestimate these guys at all; they’re hungry.  Moses is comfortable with the guys around him and Reed. “We trust our younger guys if one or both of us are struggling,” he explains.

The Eagles are coming into this game after losing consecutive games to Ballard and Manual, but Moses is still high on this team’s potential.  Another victory over St. X would add to that sentiment.

“We’re on a two-game losing streak, but we’ve played two of the best teams in the state, so I feel like we’re fine,” Moses says.  “I still have a lot of confidence in this team and feel like we can make a deep run.”

The Most Telling Stat

This is pretty easy for both teams.  Rebounding has been critical to both St. X and Eastern’s success this season.  St. X Head Coach Kevin Klein always has one of his team goals for every game be “Win the rebound battle by at least five.”  When they meet that goal, the Tigers are almost always in a great position to win the game.  When they get out-rebounded, the result is usually an L.

Moses says rebounding is the path to a deep run for Eastern.

“Controlling the boards is a big key to winning for us,” he says.  “When we rebound, I feel we’re as good as any team.”

The Rematch: Offensive Keys

 

If C.J. Shanklin can figure out how to operate around Raymond Spalding in the middle, St. X might just have enough offense to pull off an upset. | Photo by Kody Nalley

If C.J. Shanklin can figure out how to operate around Raymond Spalding in the middle, St. X might just have enough offense to pull off an upset. | Photo by Kody Nalley

Last Friday night, one team showed the state that it could hang with anybody. St. X gave the number one team in Kentucky everything it had and nearly knocked it off in Broadbent Arena. But in the end, it was Trinity that defeated the Tigers by a final line of 57-47. So with a rematch coming tomorrow, what can the Tigers do better on the offensive end? Lets take a deeper look at the ups and downs of the offense against its heated rival last week.

By no means am I a coach, nor do I know the personnel of the team as well as Coach Klein does, but there are some tweaks that can be made to the offense to put the team in a better position to win against heavyweights such as Trinity.

The Tigers came out firing in the first half, but shots were not falling for everybody. On a night where the defense shined brighter, the offense could have been on the same level had a few things not happened. Firstly, it is difficult to commit 8 turnovers and be in the game at halftime without playing stellar defense. Luckily, that’s exactly what the Tigers did and found themselves ahead by four at the break.

But besides the turnovers, the St. X offense relied heavily on one player. Ashanti Burgess was hotter than he’s ever been in the first half, and the Tigers kept going to him. That’s perfectly fine, but if no one else steps up to take a scoring role, it is eventually going to wear on Burgess and subsequently, the rest of the team. And that’s exactly what happened. Burgess shot a wildly impressive 71.4% from the field in the first half (58.3% for the game) and made 4-6 three pointers. None of those stats are undesirable, and he was the only bright spot for the Tigers offensively all night. If there are any bones to pick with his performance, it’s going 2-7 from the free throw line. But overall, you couldn’t ask for a much better game from the senior sharpshooter.

What you can ask for, however, is for someone else to step up and lighten the load for Burgess on offense. Lucas Miller was tasked with guarding Raymond Spalding, and having to guard an opponent seven inches taller than you is guaranteed to be physically taxing. With a fatigued Miller, St. X was down a primary scorer on the offensive end. That meant that someone needed to step up and score in the second half to help relieve Burgess. The Tigers only mustered 9 points in the third quarter and it was clear that Burgess was slowing down. He scored his final 5 points of the game in that quarter until the defense caught on to him and shut him down in the fourth quarter.

With Miller and Burgess both seemingly out of offensive gas, one would look to a Connor McKim or a C.J. Shanklin to get some buckets when the Tigers needed them most. Shanklin struggled with the defense from Spalding and often times found himself getting trapped after trying to dribble and get to the rack like he is accustomed to doing. Give the Trinity defense credit though, as they were suffocating in the paint. In the end, 8 points was simply not enough from the senior forward. I expect him to relax and find his shot a lot more easily in the rematch.

McKim had an off night, going 2-4  from the floor, 0-2 from behind the line and uncharacteristically not earning a trip to the charity stripe. I expect to see a lot more of the junior point guard in the rematch because of his pure ability to get to the basket and create. Every good player has bad outings.

Besides those key elements, the offense was not too terribly different than it has been all season. Like I said before, I don’t know if the Tigers could have played more inspired basketball on Friday night.

As for some more subtle tweaks, I look to the floor generals. Both McKim and Josh Rudy need to help communicate to their teammates to move without the ball. Basic ball screens, cutting and flashing, and sealing off the pick on a pick-and-roll situation can pay big dividends in finding easy buckets. It’s the fundamentals of motion without the basketball that the Tigers slipped up on a few occasions. Those mistakes are understandable on the big stage, but in the rematch, I would expect to see fine-tuned and clean offense from the Tigers.

Here are some stats that can be improved upon in my opinion:

– 6-14 from the free throw line as a team (43%)

-17 total turnovers

– only one player in double digits (Burgess, 20)

While those stats exist, there are some very encouraging stats for the Tigers to remember at the same time:

– 9-17 from 3pt. range (53%)

-Miller still managed to find 9 points on limited shooting

– 10 total assists

If the Tigers can replicate what they did on defense and make some minor adjustments to the offense, Kentucky’s number one team could very well taste defeat on Wednesday when these two squads are pitted against each other for the second time in less than a week.

Go Tigers. Beat the Rocks.

 

St. X vs. Trinity – Positional Breakdowns: Forwards

Will Olsen will need to have a solid performance if St. X wants to win. | Photo by Jacob Hayslip

Will Olsen will need to have a solid performance if St. X wants to win. | Photo by Jacob Hayslip

The forward position is where a big disparity begins to set in between the Rocks and the Tigers.  The forwards for both teams are very skilled, but in different ways.  While Trinity has a clear physical advantage, St. X will be sneaky in how they use this position tonight.  It will be interesting to see how this matchup plays out on the court.

St. Xavier Depth Chart

– #32 Will Olsen | 6’2″ | 191 lbs. | Junior | SF

– #35 C.J. Shanklin | 6’3″ | 175 lbs. | Senior | SF/PF

– #22 Billy Basham | 6’1″ | 185 lbs. | Junior | SF/PF

– #15 Nick Kitchen | 6’2″ | 180 lbs. | Senior | SF

 

St. Xavier Overview

The Tigers feature some wiley, heady players that man the forward spots.  Olsen and Shanklin start, and they provide a nice inside-outside blend.  Olsen is a perimeter player who loves to nestle himself in along the baseline and wings in positions that make opposing defenses uncomfortable.  His three-point shooting has been streaky this year, but he will take and make any unguarded outside shot.

Shanklin is an especially interesting piece in St. X’s puzzle.  He is a natural point guard with NBA size, but due to the Tigers’ extreme lack of size, Shanklin has shifted to playing almost exclusively at small forward and power forward.  Shanklin has never been a sharpshooter, but his outside has improved considerably this season, and it has gotten to the point where he should be respected out there.  This step was huge for his game, because his strength is much like Trinity’s similarly-sized guard Michael Stafford: penetrating.  Shanklin loves getting into the teeth of a defense and then making a decision on whether to pass or shoot.  He puts a lot of pressure on opposing defenses with his wide array of flashy dribble moves.  Initially, Shanklin’s ball handling was being taken advantage of because of the position he plays.  But as he has grown more comfortable with his role, he has started to get out on the break more frequently.  A huge advantage for St. X is Shanklin being the team’s leading rebounder (6.4 rpg), because he has become a natural at rebounding and going the length of the court on his own for buckets.  Any easy baskets Shanklin can get by pushing after his own rebound will be huge in this game.

Billy Basham and Nick Kitchen come off the bench to bring smart, high-energy play that is capable of flipping the complexion of the game.

Shanklin says that defense and rebounding are his chief duties tonight; with the bodies he is going up against, it is no surprise he is focusing his energy inside.  If Olson can get going from deep, Shanklin’s toughness inside may be the deciding factor in the game.

Olson said it best: “We are going to have to battle,” he explained.  “We are going to have to go after it on the backboards and have to have all five guys boxing out on every possession.”

 

If St. X isn't careful, Jax Levitch could blow the game wide open with his shooting ability. | Photo by Jaocb Hayslip

If St. X isn’t careful, Jax Levitch could blow the game wide-open with his shooting ability. | Photo by Jaocb Hayslip

 

Trinity Depth Chart

– #23 Christian Thieneman | SF/PF | Senior

– #4 Jax Levitch | SF/PF | Senior

– #14 David Burton | SF | Sophomore

 

Trinity Overview

The Rocks aren’t particularly deep at this position, but they have a couple of special players here.  Christian Thieneman is committed to Marshall University, and Jax Levitch has several D1 offers.  There is a reason these guys will be heading to big-time colleges next season: they make plays.

Thieneman will be a handful because of his versatility.  He can bang inside with the bigs and rebound, and he is equally as lethal outside, where he sports an impressive three-point stroke.  He is ultra-important in Trinity’s offensive scheme because he can fill multiple holes left from foul trouble or injuries at any time.

When I asked him if Raymond Spalding getting in foul trouble would change their approach, he responded predictably.

“Yes it could,” Thieneman said.  “I could play inside a little bit or play a five-out motion.”

Levitch, summarized in one word: sniper.  You simply cannot give this guy any look at the basket from three-point range.  He sunk big trey balls in the state tournament last season, and he told me he is more than comfortable taking and making shots on a big stage.  Something to watch out for will be Levitch’s defense.  It’s an aspect of his game he said he needs to work on, and if he doesn’t come out focused, he could be an attack point for St. X.

While all the eyes are always on Spalding, Thieneman could be the difference in this game.  All you have to hear is him describing his role.

“[My role is] just to be the toughest kid on the team and lead the team to victories.”

When a player of his caliber says something like that, he should be feared.

Tiger Basketball Season Stats on MaxPreps

Lucas Miller is leading the Tigers in scoring thus far, averaging 11.4 points per game. | Photo by Jacob Hayslip

Lucas Miller is leading the Tigers in scoring thus far, averaging 11.4 points per game. | Photo by Jacob Hayslip

Want to get more informed about what you will see on Friday night at Broadbent Arena? Then head on over to MaxPreps and check out the newly-updated season statistics for Saint Xavier Basketball.  You can see season averages for each player and check box scores from any game St. X has played this season.

You can check it out here, Tiger Nation, but I will give you some quick hitters now.

Leading Scorer: Lucas Miller (11.4 points per game)

Leading Rebounder: C.J. Shanklin (6.4 rebounds per game)

Leading Passer: Josh Rudy (3.2 assists per game)

You can continue to check MaxPreps throughout the season, as stats will be updated after each game the Tigers play.

Tiger Basketball Earns Solid Win in Season Opener

Ashanti Burgess and Josh Rudy finish pre-game rituals before tip-off Tuesday night against Central. | Photo by Jacob Hayslip

Ashanti Burgess and Josh Rudy finish pre-game rituals before tip-off Tuesday night against Central. | Photo by Jacob Hayslip

The Saint Xavier Basketball team kicked off the regular season Tuesday night against the Central Yellowjackets, and it was a squeaker amid a hostile road environment.

But the Tigers handled the pressure from the crowd and the Jackets very well, and perfect execution late in the game led St. X to a resounding 69-64 victory, making this their second consecutive victory in the season opener.

The team secured the victory with methodical, consistent ball movement and tremendous poise when the action heated up.  They didn’t need any flash or frills; St. X won by simply controlling what it could and taking advantage of every opportunity afforded.

With three new faces in the starting lineup, the final outcome of the game was anything but decided before tip-off.  Juniors Connor McKim and Will Olsen joined senior C.J. Shanklin as first timers in the lineup along with returning starters Ashanti Burgess and Lucas Miller.  After two losing efforts in preseason scrimmages versus Oldham County and Bowling Green, the Tigers were desperately hoping they could find a rhythm early.

St. X never really established a rhythm, but it didn’t phase McKim at all.  The point guard finished with 15 points on 1-5 shooting and 13-14 free throw shooting.  He got to the rim early and often and was money when he got there.  He wasn’t phased by a loud crowd on the road either, as he swished 6-6 shots at the charity stripe in the final 30 seconds of the game to put the nail in the coffin.

“I honestly felt great,” McKim said about his clutch free throws.  “I’ve thought about times like that a lot, on the road and needing to hit free throws to seal the game.  I was just thinking, ‘Take your time and win this game.'”

If you look at the box score, both Central and St. X looked very similar; both teams shot horribly from long range, both teams had a ton of turnovers, and both teams had almost the exact same rebound total.

But the Tigers routed the Jackets in one category: free throw shooting.  St. X had more than doubled the amount of attempts Central had, and the Tigers converted those extra scoring opportunities at an 85% team clip.  The difference in the game was the charity stripe.

The game started with a technical foul before tip-off for the third year in a row when Central was assessed a uniform violation for not wearing white jerseys as the home team.  McKim drained the two freebies to begin his eventful night at the line.

The first quarter was back-and-forth the whole way, and the score was knotted up at 16 after the buzzer sounded.

St. X controlled the second quarter on the shoulders of Olsen, who poured in 10 of his team-high 16 points.  Senior Tiger guard Josh Rudy turned the game around for the Tigers on a brilliant play early in the quarter.  He took an inbounds pass, broke Central’s full-court press, and picked up his dribble just after passing halfcourt.  He was immediately double-teamed, and just when it looked like he was going to turn it over on a five-second call, he whipped it across the court to Miller for a wide-open layup that gave the Tigers a big burst of energy.

St. X lead by 7 at halftime, but the Jackets turned the tables in the third period by holding the Tigers to just 7 points and tying the score at 47.

But McKim’s decisive play and Rudy’s deceptively-effective 20 minutes off the bench helped guide St. X the rest of the way.  Rudy only had 3 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, and a steal, but he did not turn the ball over at all and brought a calming presence to the floor when the pressure was ratcheting up.

Shanklin started his first regular season game back after tearing his left ACL in a summer AAU game in during the summer of his junior year.  It will be especially tough for him to get back in the swing of things because not only is he adjusting to the feel of the game after being injured for a long time, but he also has to become accustomed to playing in the post when he is naturally a guard.

“It was hard getting back to the speed of a real game and also the atmosphere,” Shanklin explained.  “I was a little nervous at the beginning, but I started to adjust and get a good feel for the game again.  I didn’t really think about it being my first game back.”

Shanklin finished with 8 points, 2 rebounds, 3 assists, and 3 steals in 23 minutes of action in what was production that will almost surely increase as he grows more accustomed to his role.  He said he needs to work on being more aggressive and putting the ball on the floor going forward.

The Tigers now sit at 1-0 on the young season with their next game against district rival Collegiate.  That game will be St. X’s home opener, and it is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Thursday night in the Bro. John Wills Arena.