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NCAA Tournament Round 2: Xavier Musketeers

Due the close proximity to Cincinnati we have played the Musketeers several times. We own a 9-3 record all-time against them, and we have played five times in the last 11 years alone. Tomorrow's matchup will be quite interesting as they are nearly as balanced as we are in terms of scoring. They are a team that does not feature much size, but they are a very disciplined team when it comes to defense. The more that I look at Xavier, the more I see them as a near mirror image of our own team.

Though we lead the overall series with the Musketeers, we come in having lost the last two games. During Coach Painter's first season we had a thoroughly forgettable loss in the Boilermaker Blockbuster 74-55 at Conseco Fieldhouse. We also lost the back end of a home-and-home series 74-59 in the 2002-03 season when the Musketeers were ranked 16th. Our last win came the previous season in a mild upset when we won 70-66 at Mackey Arena. I remember going to that game, as it was my senior year at Purdue. The Musketeers had a sure first-round NBA draft pick in David West, but we played quite a game in knocking them off 70-66. As dismal as that season was, it was probably the best home win of the year. In what surely has to be a typo of some kind, John Allison actually played like a live basketball center with 20 points and 11 rebounds to spark the win. If John Allison can have that type of game against an NBA post player I suppose anything is possible.

Xavier so far:

It is hard to consider Xavier a mid-major. The Atlantic 10 has had a long reputation as a multiple-bid conference. The Musketeers themselves are making their 19th tournament appearance. 18 of those appearances have come in the past 25 years, so they are regularly in the bracket. Their best showing in that time came in 2004 when they made a run to the elite 8 as a 7 seed before falling to Duke 66-63. They beat some very solid teams that year, as Louisville, Mississippi State, and Texas all fell to them along the way. Just last season they had Ohio State beat before Ron Lewis nailed a 3-pointer to send the game to overtime. Because of that loss, Xavier is very determined to get through the second round this year.

Xavier has already won a school record 28 games on the season. They also have some very impressive wins both in and out of conference. Outside the conference Xavier had wins over NCAA tournament teams in Coppin State, Kent State, Indiana, Belmont, and Kansas State. They also played some very good teams like Tennessee, Arizona State, and Creighton. They weren't afraid to step up in weight class with games against the likes of Virginia from the ACC and Auburn from the SEC. Once inside the conference they struggled only against Temple and St. Joseph's, both of whom made this tournament. All told, they have a 6-4 record against NCAA teams this year. Their only two losses to non-NCAA teams came against Arizona State, who was possibly the team bounced out by Georgia's run, and Miami (OH).

What concerns me is that Xavier has played very well against this stiff competition. They didn't just beat Kansas State, they blew them out 103-77. They pounded Indiana by 15 back when Indiana was still playing as a team that looked like it was going somewhere. Belmont, who was seconds away from upsetting Duke last night, got blasted by Xavier 90-49. These guys come to play every night, and only the Arizona State loss and the Temple loss were games that saw them get beat by more than 10 points. Against Georgia yesterday they played a very impressive second half after an ugly first half found them down 9.

Who is dangerous for the Musketeers:

Few teams are as balanced in scoring as Xavier. We have exhibited good balance this year and yesterday was the best example of that. Xavier shows it even more as five players average in double figures while a sixth, Stanley Burrell, is just below that at 9.8 per game. Josh Duncan is the leading scorer at 11.9 per game. Derrick Brown (11.0 ppg), Drew Lavender (10.8 ppg), C.J. Anderson (10.5 ppg), and B.J. Raymond (10.2 ppg) round out what is essentially a six man rotation. Jason Love is the seventh man, as he has played in every game so far and contributes about six points per game in 18 minutes. Adrion Graves and Dante Jackson can be expected to play spot duty, but they only combine to contribute four points per game. All told Xavier is averaging 75 points per game, so they aren't filling it up quite as well as Baylor.

Though we haven't played Xavier since the 2005 season, we are familiar with a few of their players. Duncan had six points as a sophomore in the Boilermaker Blockbuster game, while Burrell had 16. Raymond even played sparingly in the end. Perhaps the player that Purdue fans remember most is one that wasn't even in a Xavier uniform when he played us. As a freshman way back in the 2003-04 season Lavender, then at Oklahoma, scored 14 points and hit the game-winning shot as the Sooners beat the Boilers in Norman. The loss ended a 6-0 start that saw victories over Clemson, Seton Hall, and Duke. It also was the first in a series of frustrating close losses that saw Purdue tumble from potential top 4 seed to the NIT by season's end. All told we lost seven games that season by three points or less. We have Lavender to blame for starting that trend in basketball, since we were having so much fun with one possession losses in football at the time.

Lavender runs the show from the point, but Xavier really excels on the defensive end of the floor as well. Burrell is known as a defensive stopper equal in esteem to our own Secretary of Defense Chris Kramer. As a team Xavier forces 5.6 steals per game. Burrell has the most steals on the team and averages at least one a game. As a team Xavier has not given up a ton of points in games this year. They generally hold their opponents under 70 points and force them into bad shots. Doesn't this sound familiar? They are not going to run as much as Baylor did, and they are perfectly fine with settling in to a defensive slugfest. I am encouraged by the fact that we won yesterday by playing a completely different style, but with no one player to focus on we will need to continue playing team defense.

One area that we must continue to focus on is our own fouls. Xavier had a HUGE advantage over Georgia yesterday from the foul line. Duncan led the charge by getting to the line 14 times, hitting 11 shots. All told Xavier shot 33 free throws to Georgia's five. Xavier took advantage by hitting 27 of those attempts, so we must keep them off the line. They weren't particularly strong on the offensive glass, but that didn't matter with so many free throws. As long as the game is called evenly and we keep them from getting to the line so much we have a great chance. This has not been our strength this year, however. This is where Xavier's experience comes into play. They have been here through the battles while we have not. Of course, we have played like a very experienced team most of the year, so that may not matter.

What not to fear from Xavier:

The thing I am most encouraged about from yesterday is the play of JuJuan Johnson in the interior. Baylor did not have much size, but Xavier has even less. Duncan is 6'9" 238 as a player in the post. Brown goes 6'8" 225, but that is really it as far as an interior presence. Love comes off the bench at 6'9", but there is not an overwhelming amount of size that we must fear. The rebounding totals show this as they only average 36 rebounds per game as a team. We only average about 33, but we have been doing much better after some pretty bad efforts earlier in the year. They only had 28 boards against Georgia.

Xavier is not going to be afraid of us after playing a very difficult non-conference schedule and rolling through the Atlantic 10, but they have faded just a little after a strong beginning. They also had an 11 game winning streak in conference play like us, but lost two of their final five games. Both of losses came to St. Joseph's, a team fighting to get into the NCAA tournament off the bubble. They have still won 28 games, and when a team does that they don't have a lot of weaknesses. They are prone to turning the ball over, doing so 13 times a game. As much as Burrell is known for his defense, he turns the ball over more than any other player on Xavier's roster.

General Outlook:

If we play like we did yesterday we will win. Yesterday we showed a versatility that stunned even the fans that have followed this team all season long. We are certainly capable of beating Xavier at its own game, but we have to be able to hit our shots to do so. Since the Musketeers are so limited in the post I would like to see us utilize Calasan and Johnson at the same time and attack their defense. If JuJuan is going to play with confidence I say we freaking use it!

We will need to take care of the ball against their defense. We can certainly cause turnovers, as it is one area where they are prone. They don't have one go to guy that we need to stick Kramer on, so likely he will take the hot hand. We can expect Burrell to do the same in kind to us. Both teams will play a team-oriented style of defense, so it may come down to whoever has a hot scorer. They have an equal number of options to us in that department, so it is pretty much a wash. We'll need to watch Lavender's ability to penetrate as well.

One area that I am encouraged to have an advantage in is depth. We have a solid nine man rotation and one of that nine did nothing yesterday. Marcus Green will not have another game like that, but we can't exactly mark down 11 points from Tarrance Crump again either. They will play nine as well most likely, but our nine plays more and contributes more than their nine. We also have picked things up well when one of our big guns have struggled. Hummel was in foul trouble yesterday in the first half, but we picked it up for him.

I honestly expect a very close game. We're so similar to each other that it is tough to judge where a true advantage for either team can come from. We are the team that is coming in after scoring 90 points though, and that was the highest total of anyone on the first day of the tournament. We shared the ball well yesterday. We must continue to do so. We also must stay out of foul trouble. We will fall behind in a hurry if we keep sending this team to the line. As long as the game is called even and we don't allow a huge free throw discrepancy we will be fine. We need to keep hitting our own free throws as well.

We played a very focused game yesterday. Doing so again will mean another week of games. Purdue 65, Xavier 64