December 21, 2015

Xavier continues to answer every challenge thrown its way during a historic start, though the path is about to become more difficult.

The No. 6 Musketeers look to complete a perfect nonconference schedule as they begin a formidable three-game stretch Tuesday night against improving Wake Forest.

Xavier has achieved two program firsts in its 11-0 start and standing in the AP poll, surpassing a No. 7 ranking reached twice previously. The Musketeers are the highest of three current top 10 teams from the Big East, where they'll open play at No. 17 Villanova on Dec. 31 and host ninth-ranked Butler two days later.

They'll get one final prep for the conference slate in a Demon Deacons squad that's proven to be no pushover in coach Danny Manning's second season. Wake Forest (8-2) knocked off then-No. 13 Indiana and UCLA in last month's Maui Invitational and can record its first six-game winning streak since 2009-10.

The Deacons' resurgence has been led by an offense that's scored 80 or more points seven times and could be even more potent once Codi Miller-McIntyre is fully recovered from a broken foot. The senior guard, who led the team with 14.5 points and 4.3 assists per game last season, missed the first eight games before returning for the last two.

Miller-McIntyre contributed 10 points in 24 minutes to help combat leading scorer Devin Thomas' foul trouble during Friday's 83-77 win over 2015 NCAA Tournament participant Coastal Carolina, which moved Wake Forest to 6-0 in games decided by six or less.

Thomas, averaging 17.7 points and 10.7 rebounds, managed a season-low six points in 23 minutes. The senior forward shot 62.2 percent while averaging 20.5 points and 12.0 rebounds over a four-game stretch coming in.

The Demon Deacons haven't been as efficient on defense, allowing 78.8 points per game. Coastal Carolina shot 49.1 percent and scored 50 second-half points.

"We have to do a much better job in guarding," Manning said. "As talented as that Coastal Carolina team is, especially on the offensive end shooting the basketball, if we let our next opponent shoot that type of percentage we'll get beat by 100."

With five players averaging double figures and having recorded at least 85 points in five of their last six wins, the Musketeers can indeed be dangerous. They're also capable of slowing down high-scoring teams, as evidenced by Saturday's 85-61 rout of Auburn in which they held the Tigers 26 points below their season average.

"To hold a team that's averaging 87 points a game to 61, it's a good job," coach Chris Mack said. "Our defense is so much better, it's not even in the same stratosphere, and this team values that more than last year's team did."

Though leading scorer Trevon Bluiett is in a 5-for-19 slump over the last two games, the Musketeers dominated Auburn inside behind forwards Jalen Reynolds and James Farr. Reynolds had a season-high 18 points on 7-of-9 shooting in 21 minutes and Farr compiled 12 points and 11 rebounds in 20.

Xavier finished with a 42-26 advantage on the glass and is outrebounding foes by 13.4 per game.

This will be the fifth meeting of an eight-game agreement between the schools that began in 2009-10. The home team has won each of the first four, with Xavier losing in Winston-Salem in December 2010 and December 2013.

The series has been dubbed the Skip Prosser Classic, honoring the former coach of both schools who died of a heart attack at age 56 in 2007.

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