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X Notes

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Still euphoric over yet another gutty win from our Ben Ball warriors? Well good. But time to get over that euphoria and pivot all of our attention to the Xavier Musketeers.

Heard a lot of chatter late last night on WWL (couldn't fall asleep) and read in various MSM outlets in the early hours this morning about how our Bruins are now "vulnerable" because we almost choked and collapsed against the Hilltoppers after building a huge first half lead. Well I found this narrative kind of amusing because after all our guys are taking on a team - the Xavier Musketeers (a very good team) - which also is coming off a harrowing game. Like UCLA they also built a huge lead in the first half which bubbled up to 18 points with about 9 mins to go and was still about 12 points with less than 3 mins left in the first half. However, unlike the Ben Ball warriors, who despite being plagued by ungodly foul trouble and without its starting pg not only managed to hold on it its lead but closed out a double digit victory, the Musketeers gave up their lead during the second half and then had to mount a desperate rally in over time after getting down by 6 points. Yet if you read the stuff popping up all over the MSM and hear the nattering nabobs on WWL, you'd get the sense it's our guys who are the underdogs heading into tomorrow afternoon's game.

I guess the Bruin hating will never stop. It will always be one thing after another no matter what we do or how we continue to win our games. And once again we will have to dig deep, focus and get ready for another opponent who will be egged on by rest of this country's sports world so they can enjoy themselves another "Princeton 1996" moment.

Well one thing for sure. Our guys will not take tomorrow's opponent lightly. They are a deep and talented team, who have gotten this far with their defense. From the WWL's team capsule on Xavier's road to the Big Dance:

Led by 39-year-old Sean Miller, one of the top young coaches in the country, Xavier wrapped up its third straight 20-win season and made its third consecutive NCAA tournament appearance.

The Musketeers did it with an emphasis on defense, but they also spread the scoring, as five players averaged at least 10 points during the regular season. Xavier was 20-0 during the regular season when at least four players averaged double digits. With senior point guard Drew Lavender healthy (he's been hindered by a sprained left ankle), the offense is in good hands. Senior Josh Duncan has also been invaluable, and despite coming off the bench is the team's leading scorer (11.6 ppg) and arguably its top player, especially during crunch time. Senior Stanley Burrell is one of the top defensive players in the conference, if not the entire country.
It was Josh Duncan who stepped up in a huge way in Musketeer's nail biting win. The senior scored a career high 26 points battling through foul trouble against the West Va defense.

Duncan is a part of a very balanced roster that features 5 guys with scoring averages in double figures. From
Scoring balance is the name of the game at Xavier as six guys are capable of scoring in double figures on any given night in Josh Duncan (12.1 ppg), Drew Lavender (11 ppg), Derrick Brown (10.9 ppg), C.J. Anderson (10.7 ppg), B.J. Raymond (10.1 ppg) and Stanley Burrell (9.8 ppg).
It's going to be a big challenge for DC to bounce back tomorrow afternoon after last night's game against the Hilltoppers. Miller will most like put Burrell, who is their defensive specialist on DC. Robyn Norwood from the LA Times gives us an early look:
Stanley Burrell is the lockdown defender for Xavier. A 6-foot-3 senior guard, he held Indiana's Eric Gordon to four-for-12 shooting in November, though Gordon got to the line enough to finish with 20 points.

In December, Burrell held Tennessee's Chris Lofton to a mere nine points on three-for-12 shooting.

In the locker room after Xavier's overtime victory over West Virginia on Thursday, Burrell sat watching the TV that showed UCLA playing Western Kentucky and tried to guess his assignment.

"Probably Collison," he said, nodding toward UCLA point guard Darren Collison. "Or Shipp or Westbrook.

"Probably their main threat, the coaches will put me on."
Obviously the conventional wisdom in the MSM is somehow the Hilltoppers displayed the perfect strategy to rattle our offense with an all out full court press. Honestly I am a little unsure whether we are going to see a lot of pressing from the Musketeers. WKY was able to exert a pressing defense because it was the foundation of their defensive strategy. If a team doesn't press very often, it is usually difficult to adopt that strategy over night and implement it in a game at this level. Looking into Pomeroy's scouting report on Xavier it appears according adjusted temp numbers (65.5 poss/40 min) they are not the kind of team that looks force the tempo just like ours (65.7 poss/40 min).

So it remains to be seen how much press we are going to see from Xavier. However, we can bet our guys are going to see a team that will attempt to play a physical brand of defense why attempting to exert severe ball pressure on DC, and throwing a multitude of bigs against Kevin Love down low one of that also happens to be their version of "Love". Steve Greenberg from the Sporting News has this on a potential "key matchup" for tomorrow afternoon:
He is 6-9, strong as an ox and mans the middle for one of the best teams in America. He could be one of the most important players in Saturday's West Region final between top-seeded UCLA and No. 3 Xavier.

His name? Love.

Jason Love.

The Musketeers' backup post man, a 255-pound sophomore, had a career-high 10 rebounds in 21 intense minutes Thursday night against West Virginia. Against the Bruins, Love will be called upon to play crucial minutes guarding UCLA's fabulous freshman, Kevin Love, who just happened to score 29 points and grab 14 rebounds in a Sweet 16 victory over Western Kentucky.

Xavier's starter down low, rugged 6-9 senior Josh Duncan, put a career-high 26 points on West Virginia, mixing three 3-pointers with several brutish post-ups and nine made free throws on 10 attempts.

It has taken Duncan, an All-Atlantic 10 second-teamer, four seasons to become this good -- and he's still not at, or even very near, Kevin Love's level.

Together with Jason Love, though, he has a fighting chance to go toe-to-toe with an All-American and come out on top.

"Yeah, we definitely can be every bit as physical as Kevin Love," says the other Love. "I've watched him play. I can't help but watch him. But we like to bang on this team."
And I am sure KL, JK, LRMAM, LMR and AA2 will relish that challenge. More notes on Xavier from
--F Josh Duncan scored a career-high 26 points, including making 9 of 10 shots from the free-throw line, despite picking up his fourth foul with 12 1/2 minutes remaining in regulation. Duncan's previous scoring best included 25-point efforts against Charlotte on Feb. 13, and Detroit in 2006-07.

--F C.J. Anderson had 12 points and 10 rebounds before fouling out in overtime. It was Anderson's third double-double of the season as he had 21 points and 11 rebounds against St. Bonaventure on Jan. 9 and 13 points and 10 rebounds against Duquesne on Feb. 21.

--G B.J. Raymond scored all eight of his points in overtime. He made a layup with 3:17 left to draw Xavier within 71-67 then hit consecutive 3-point field goals with 1:22 and 30 seconds remaining to put the Musketeers ahead for good at 78-74.

--With wins over Georgia and Purdue last week, Xavier established a school record for wins in a season (29). Xavier won No. 30 against West Virginia.

--Xavier's six losses all came against quality competition -- at Miami (Ohio) on Nov. 13, at Arizona State on Dec. 15, vs. Tennessee on Dec. 22, at Temple on Jan. 16, at Saint Joseph's on March 6 and vs. Saint Joseph's in the Atlantic 10 tournament semifinals.
Right now I am hoping and praying last night's second half performance will give us a jolt. I actually agree with some takes I have read about our guys still need to put together that 40 mins of blitz we haven't seen since the Cal game in the Pac-10 tournament. Hopefully we will have that tenacious performance from start to end tomorrow. However, at the same time it is funny to sense the vibe coming from the national and the local scene on how somehow our guys don't belong here.

I will say it again reading all the materials in the MSM early this am and listening to all the pundits on WWL, it almost appears as if our guys should somehow apologize for being in the Elite Eight (despite winning one of the toughest conference in the country by 3 games and then winning the conference tournament without its defensive glue). Watching the "Gameday" crew on WWL it seems like those guys are all giddy in anticipation of a Xavier win tomorrow afternoon so they could somehow feel good about themselves about being proven right re all the BS whining starting with the last week of the regular season.

In many ways it feels like 1995 when we were inundated with the chatter of how Ed, Tyus, Toby and co didn't have much of a chance against Joe Smith's Maryland (well the Terps never even got to Elite Eight). And right before Elite Eight game we had to endure more propaganda from WWL about how Calhoun's Huskies were going to run us out of Oakland. And then Tyus struck that pose and well you know what happened.

I can't wait for the tip off.