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Purdue At Xavier: The Toughest Test Of The Non-Conference Season

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If we're going to get an excellent non-conference victory it will have to come this weekend. With Butler not being the Butler of old and the rest of the non-conference slate being relatively week, we have to get most of our heft from the Puerto Rico Tournament and the game at Xavier. We already missed on a chance to beat a ranked team in Alabama, so now we get a shot at grabbing a top 25 true road win: something that rarely presents itself in the non-conference season.

The Musketeers are at No. 11 in both polls. Their RPI is only 50, but it can't be trusted at the moment when the No. 3 team according to the RPI is Denver. They are a team that will rise as the season goes on, and they already have a win over a ranked team in Vanderbilt. Let's take a closer look at them.

Xavier Musketeers

2011-12 Record: 5-0

2010-11 Record: 24-8 (Lost to Marquette 66-55 in NCAA Tournament first round)

Blog Representation: Banners On The Parkway

Series Record: Purdue Leads 9-4 (Purdue has lost three straight)

Last Purdue Win: 70-66 on 12/5/2001 at Purdue

Last Xavier Win: 85-78 on 3/22/2008 in Washington, DC (NCAA Tournament Second Round)

The first major concern is rebounding. The Musketeers are eighth in the nation in rebounding at over 42 per game. For a team that struggles to rebound even against lesser competition, we're going to have a very hard time on the glass Saturday afternoon. They don't even have one guys doing the vast majority of the rebounding. Travis Taylor is their leader at only 6'7" and he gets less than seven boards per game. Andre Walker gets exactly six rebounds per game in what will be his only year at Xavier. He transferred to Xavier with one year of eligibility much like Brandon Wood to Michigan State. Like when we played them in the NCAA tournament in 2008, they know how to box out and they have a ton of experience. They weren't necessarily taller than us, but they were stronger and more experienced. We can expect the same thing on Saturday.

In terms of scoring Mark Lyons and Tu Holloway each average better than 17 points per game. Both of them are upperclassmen guards that have a ton of experience in their careers. They are the leading three-point shooters, but the Musketeers don't shoot the three nearly as much as we do. They have just 67 attempts in five games. By comparison, we have already shot 192 in eight games. Holloway and Lyons can get to the basket and create their own shots. Like the Alabama game, we're going to have to guard against the drive.

Holloway is the focus of their offense. Not only does he average 17 points per game, but he dishes out 5.3 assists too. He is very good defensively with 2.3 steals too. He's not a great shooter at only 39% from the field, but he gets to the free throw line more than any other player on their team and shoots 85% once he get there. Dare I say it, but he is a bigger and maybe even better Lewis Jackson.

As a team Xavier is averaging 76 points per game. We average 79. At least that means we win by three if both teams hit their average. Kenny Frease and Dezmine Wells each average better than nine points per game. Frease is a 7' center that could be especially difficult for us. Dee Davis, a freshman from Bloomington South High School is a player I have a personal vendetta against. He prevented my Kokomo Wildkats from winning last season's state title, so, he must pay. He plays 13 minutes per game so far and was one of the top point guards in the state last year. He is more than capable of relieving Holloway.

Finally, another player we will see is former commitment Jeff Robinson. Robinson was originally a boilermaker, but didn't make it academically. He is in his third season at Xavier and he plays about 10 minutes per night averaging two points and two rebounds.

For a look at what to expect against good competition, take a look at what Banners on the Parkway had to say about the Vanderbilt game:

Does size matter? Xavier managed 20 offensive rebounds and a rebounding margin of +18. If those numbers seem crazy to you, that's because they are. Xavier was too big, too athletic, and too determined on the glass tonight. Yes, size matters.

What is Xavier's pace? It's still hard to say. The Musketeers had to play a frenetic second half to rally, and it was clear they weren't comfortable doing it. With that caveat, Xavier played a running team at that team's pace and still managed to win. It's clear that a bit more methodical is better for this team, but they can run if they have to.

This game concerns me because they are an excellent rebounding team and they are comfortable playing any pace. They are just fine with us playing at a fast pace like we did against Iona or if we try to grind it out with our traditional man defense. Jacob Lawson, Sandi Marcius, and Travis Carroll don't have the experience they do in the post, so they could get pushed around. If anything, they do turn the ball over almost 15 times per game, so creating offense from our defense will be critical.

To win this game we will have to shoot the basketball well and avoid lapses on defense. They are diversified in their scoring, so everyone is dangerous. This is especially true if Holloway is distributing and getting everyone involved. Robbie Hummel and the rest of our post player will have to crash the glass and make rebounding a priority.

Offensively, they gave up 70 points to the only good team they have faced, but they held Georgia, IPFW, Morgan State, and Miami (OH) under 63. They're a decent defensive team, but they clearly prefer to get into the 70's or even 80's and let their offense win the game. I feel like if we can slow down Holloway (you won't stop him) we will have an excellent chance at winning. Taking him out of their offense causes them to bog down, but it is easier said than done. Playing this game away from Mackey Arena with them looking for another major conference victory will make this difficult.