Wednesday, November 14, 2001

Xavier basketball preview


ROSTER
Player Pos. Height Class Hometown/school
James Baronas F 6-8 Sr. Baltimore/Mount St. Joseph
Alvin Brown G 6-3 Sr. Washington/Gonzaga
Ryan Caldwell F 6-5 Jr. Cincinnati/McNicholas
Will Caudle F 6-9 Fr. Indianapolis/Warren Central
Lionel Chalmers G 6-0 Jr. Albany, N.Y./Albany
Anthony Coleman F 6-9 Fr. Carson, Calif./Centennial
Tom Compton F 6-11 So. Cincinnati/St. Xavier
Kevin Frey F 6-8 Sr. Chicago/Maine West
Keith Jackson G/F 6-5 Fr. Cincinnati/Purcell Marian
Andre Johnson G 5-9 Jr. Youngstown/Union (Pa.)
Romain Sato G 6-5 So. Cen. Afr. Rep./Dayton Christian
David West F/C 6-9 Jr. Garner, N.C./Hargrave Military
Jaison Williams G 6-3 Fr. Aurora, Colo./Hinkley
Dave Young G 6-5 Jr. New Castle, Pa./New Castle

Frontcourt

     Xavier may have its concerns, but David West isn't among them. The junior center is this program's heart and soul, and he was an emotional leader as early as his freshman year. If XU has a good season, and West does as well as expected, he'll deserve All-American consideration.

     Thad Matta wants his superstar to be a little more selfish, to look for more shots and fewer assists. Even more than last season, XU needs to direct its offense inside out, looking first to West.

     ''That's where we've got to go,'' senior forward Kevin Frey said. ''We feel comfortable when he has the ball.''

     Frey is the X-factor - a fourth-year starter still striving for consistency. Ankle problems have slowed him each of the past two seasons, and he's still getting into shape after offseason ankle surgery. XU needs a healthy, happy Frey; the past two years, it is 26-1 when he scores 12 or more points, 17-18 when he doesn't.

     ''He's been shooting it well,'' Matta said. ''Right now, his frame of mind and attitude is off the charts.''

     Second-year player Dave Young, a 6-foot-5 guard, will start at the small forward/third guard spot.

     Young struggled much of last season after sitting out the prior season, but he has bulked up and says he's quite comfortable in Matta's system. His shooting (.371 last winter) will likely be much better.

     Blue Ribbon ranks Xavier's frontcourt No. 2 in the Atlantic 10, behind Massachusetts'.

    

     Backcourt

     Matta said he wakes up each day thinking about how to help his players improve, and he said Lionel Chalmers is often the first thought. In Matta's think-first offensive attack, point guard play is critical, and he is hoping to help polish the talented Chalmers. He was thrust into a starting role at the beginning of his rookie year last season, and he committed 25 turnovers in the first six games alone. Thereafter, he was able to develop better in a sixth-man role in preparation for a full-time job this winter.

     Chalmers shot just 36.5 percent last season (30.2 percent on 3-pointers) and totaled more turnovers (60) than assists (55). Matta is trying to have him exercise better control and judgment.

     ''He doesn't want us to force anything,'' Chalmers said of Matta. ''That's basically all he talks about - getting a good shot.''

     Chalmers' backcourt mate is budding star Romain Sato (10.7 ppg), who ranked third on the team last season in rebounds (5.4 avg.) as the shooting guard. Matta is trying to convince the meek sophomore to occasionally forego perimeter shots for the sake of slashing drives.

     ''We have a solid backcourt,'' Matta said. ''I'm still trying to figure out what they can do. The big thing is getting them to understand what we need each trip down the floor.''

    

     Bench

     It's a misnomer to call Matta the anti-Skip in comparison with former coach Skip Prosser's tendency to use six- and seven-player rotations. Last season at Butler, Matta tried numerous combinations, then whittled his lineup to a seven-man rotation by February.

     That said, Matta would appreciate the luxury of more choices here. There are just four scholarship players on the bench - three of them freshmen - and the only frontcourt option is reed-thin forward Anthony Coleman. Matta admits the news that forward/center Will Caudle has to sit out as a partial qualifier was a big setback.

     Keith Jackson appears set for a sixth-man role. The 6-5 swingman will relieve Young at small forward, but he might also see time at shooting guard and power forward. Two preseason publications named him the league's top newcomer, and his high-flying game should provide a big spark.

     Fifth-year senior Alvin Brown, forgotten last season, will be needed for contributions at both guard spots. Freshman Jaison Williams, like Brown, can play either guard spot and could develop into a nifty playmaker. Coleman should see 8-10 minutes per game in relief of West and Frey.

    

     Notable numbers

     • Last winter, XU had its worst field goal shooting (42.7 percent) in 36 seasons, its worst 3-point shooting (30.3 percent) ever and its lowest scoring average (73.4 ppg) in 16 seasons. Matta pledges to make this a more deliberate, effective offense.

     • On the plus side: XU was outstanding defensively last season, allowing just 40.6-percent shooting - its best mark in 39 years. With three starters back, there's no reason to believe it won't be similarly stingy.

     • West ranked second in the nation last season with 20 double-doubles and fourth with 10.9 rebounds per game. His 61 blocks were a school single-season record.

     • As XU seeks a postseason berth, it can be certain its coach knows the way. In his seven seasons as a full-time assistant or head coach, Matta has been to six NCAA Tournaments and one National Invitation Tournament.

    

     Intangibles

     Even Matta can't forecast how this team will adjust to him or how quickly. ''I haven't been through the wars with them, so it's hard to predict the season,'' he said. ''So many things have to get better.''

     Same as last season, XU will have just one senior starter. It's hard to predict how productive the rookies will be or how well the bench can contribute. If injury befalls any starter, the loss could be critical, as could foul trouble in any individual game.

     West should be brilliant again, but having help will make his job easier. Sato seems poised for a big season, and Young is confident after suffering through a self-esteem slump last winter. ''I think right now I'm playing my best basketball,'' Young said.

     Chalmers' development at the point and Frey's health/productivity are key factors to watch.

    

     Games to watch

     • Nov. 24 vs. No. 8 Missouri at Indianapolis: A Top 10 opponent in Game 2. West tries to match firepower with All-American Kareem Rush. And Matta returns to Indy, where he coached last season.

     • Dec. 14 vs. Cincinnati: No explanation necessary.

     • Dec. 22 at Creighton: Winning here could mean a big RPI boost. XU could be tired, playing its fourth consecutive game against a 2001 NCAA Tournament team (following Wisconsin, UC and Kent State).

     • Jan. 5 at Dayton: Matta's first A-10 game is a tough assignment, where XU has lost six straight.

     • Feb. 16 vs. No. 10 Saint Joseph's: Another Top 10 opponent, this time for an ESPN2 game.

     - Neil Schmidt

    

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