Area rivals and Xavier and Miami meet tonight at Cincinnati Gardens as Top 25 teams with very different mindsets.
The RedHawks, rising in the national rankings, feel good about themselves. They're unbeaten, upbeat and confident.
"We're happy about the way the season's been going so far," senior Wally Szczerbiak said. "It's exciting for the school and exciting for our players."
The Musketeers, plummeting in the polls, are reeling with two lopsided losses in three games in Puerto Rico. They're unsure of themselves, tentative and concerned. With No. 14 Purdue looming Saturday, Xavier needs a victory or two to stay in the top 25.
"We can talk about Miami," Xavier coach Skip Prosser said. "We'll try as best we can to prepare for what they do. But we have to worry about ourselves right now. We have to get better. There's a part of you that wishes you were playing St. Mary's of Hyde Park, but we're not."
The RedHawks come in ranked No. 22, one spot ahead of Xavier in the Associated Press poll. They have already beaten one Top 25 team this season (Tennessee).
So, does that make Xavier the underdog?
"We feel like we're the top dog," XU senior James Posey said. "That's the way we have to play."
"I don't think anyone's the favorite when they go into Cincinnati Gardens," Szczerbiak said.
"It doesn't even matter," XU senior guard Gary Lumpkin said. "What matters is how hard we play and how well we play. It's not even about ranking. It's about pride."
The marquee matchup, of course, is Posey against Szczerbiak, teammates on the gold-medal winning U.S. Goodwill Games team over the summer.
MIAMI at XU
When: 7 p.m. today |
Where: Cincinnati Gardens (10,100)
Records: Miami 4-0, Xavier 4-2
TV: Ch. 9
Radio: WLW-AM (700)
Tickets: Sold out
Player Ht Yr Avg
F James Posey 6-8 SR 16.0
F Lloyd Price 6-5 FR 11.2
C Kevin Frey 6-8 FR 4.5
G Lenny Brown 6-2 SR 14.7
G Gary Lumpkin 6-2 SR 11.5
Player Ht Yr Avg
F W.Szczerbiak 6-8 SR 23.5
F M.Ensminger 6-6 SO 1.5
C R. Lethunya 6-8 JR 4.5
G A. Taylor 6-1 JR 8.3
G D. Frierson 6-4 SR 10.8
BY THE NUMBERS
24: Miami's biggest lead last year against XU in Millett Hall 22: Miami's Sagarin Rating
48: Xavier's Sagarin Rating
3-7: XU's regular-season record against Top 25 teams under Skip Prosser
Szczerbiak, labeled the best player in the country by Sports Illustrated, was the leading scorer (17.2) with the third-highest average for a U.S. player in the Goodwill Games. Posey had a team-high seven steals in five games, and his 88.2 free throw percentage was the best in U.S. Goodwill Games team history.
The two did not guard each other much in practice, mostly in tryouts for the team in Colorado. They will tonight. "We're two pretty good players," Szczerbiak said. "It will be equally tough to stop each other. We have a lot of things we can do on the floor. He's a totally complete player. If you stop one thing, he can do other things. He helps his team win in many ways."
Said Posey: "He can shoot the ball, that I know. I'll try not to give him good looks at the basket and let him get his feet set to shoot the ball and try to make him go to the basket a little bit." Xavier could not stop Szczerbiak last year. He finished 11-of-15 from the field for 29 points. He made 3 of 5 three-point tries.
Miami was ahead by 16 at halftime. Its lead reached 24. XU was ranked No. 9 at the time.
XU can't completely deny Szczerbiak the ball. He's too good at reading screens, too patient and too smart a player. XU's coaches have talked plenty about Szczerbiak, but they have stressed the talent of the rest of the RedHawks, as well.
"We have to be aware of Wally," Prosser said. "If it were just Wally, that would be one thing . . . but you can't point everything to him because they have too many other weapons. You can't really just put all your eggs in that basket or you lose."
Damon Frierson (23 points) and John Estick (14) also also hurt Xavier last year.
The Musketeers didn't help themselves, either, with 19 turnovers -- 12 in the first half when they shot 38.5 percent.
"Their defense took us out of what we tried to do," Prosser said. "We have to be more efficient offensively. They got 20 points against us last year off of turnovers. If we throw the ball to them, then we don't have much of a chance of winning."
Miami travels to Wisconsin-Green Bay on Saturday and probably will face host Fresno State in the Fresno State Coors Light Classic (Dec. 22-23). But this might be the only ranked opponent it plays the rest of the year.
And it won't get more hostile than a sold-out Gardens, where Miami hasn't won in eight years.
"They're really jacked up for this game," Szczerbiak said. "We have to be mentally ready because they're going to be mentally ready. We've got to remember that last year we knocked them off when they had really something good going, and they're going to be ready to get revenge."
While Miami is adjusting to the loss of point guard Rob Mestas (knee), Xavier is trying to deal with a lack of production from several players. Freshman Kevin Frey might start at center for sophomore Reggie Butler. Coaches have discussed starting sophomore Maurice McAfee at point guard over senior Gary Lumpkin; that probably won't happen tonight.
Junior center Obi Harris (broken finger) has practiced more the past two days and should make his XU debut.
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