Tuesday, March 13, 2001

Coles says XU can beat Irish

Miami showed how to do it

By Neil Schmidt
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Charlie Coles has coached his Miami basketball team to victories over Notre Dame three consecutive seasons. That should land him a spot on Skip Prosser's speed dial this week.

        “He's welcome to call, but I think he's got it covered,” Coles said of the Xavier coach. “Skip knows what he wants to do.”

        Prosser knows Notre Dame as well as any outsider could. He has coached against the Irish three times and been a candidate for that coaching spot the past two springs.

        What Prosser wants XU (21-7) to do in its NCAA Tournament opener Friday is fulfill his favorite expression: “Take the fight to them.”

        Notre Dame (19-9) won its division of the Big East, maybe the nation's most physical conference, but the Irish can be bullied and beaten.

        “I think Xavier can take it to them,” Coles said. “You have to really, really work the boards and take advantage of your quickness.”

        Miami did that in its 73-64 upset victory at Notre Dame in December, winning the rebounding battle 44-26. Pittsburgh did that last week in a 66-54 upset of the Irish in the Big East Tournament, outrebounding them 39-25.

        “They're bigger and stronger than us,” XU assistant coach Mark Schmidt said. “We have to outscrap them, outquick them - be the tougher team.”

        The Musketeers are glad to face a familiar foe. They lost a second-round NIT game 76-64 last March at Notre Dame. The Irish returned their top six scorers from last season, and XU returned five of its top six, so personnel matchups will be similar.

        The Irish's principal addition is Oklahoma transfer Ryan Humphrey (14.3 points, 9.0 rebounds), a 6-foot-8, 233-pound senior forward whom Coles calls their best athlete.

        “It's a little bit easier going in, having seen those guys, having a sense for the kind of player (All-American Troy) Murphy is,” XU soph omore center David West said.

        XU plays the last game of the first round (approximately 10:20 p.m. Friday). It will have had eight days since its last game, its longest layoff of the season.

        “Three years ago we won the Atlantic 10 Tournament on a Saturday night, then the next day was Selection Sunday, then we played Thursday at noon and, boom, what happened?” Prosser said of a first-round loss to Washington. “With the amount of time we have this year, it's a lot less of a concern.”

        The Musketeers have heard Prosser's pleas for aggressive play in recent weeks, but they were admittedly tight the past two games as they tried to secure an NCAA berth. XU was outrebounded 36-30 in its loss at Dayton and 42-33 in an A-10 tourney loss to George Washington.

        “That's an ongoing concern for us,” Prosser said. “When you're playing not to lose, it makes you hesitant - paralysis by analysis. We have to be aggressive in this game and hold our own on the boards.”

        Xavier may be the underdog, but Coles lost by 14 at XU and made Notre Dame look bad. He calls this a tossup.

        “It's going to be a heck of a game,” he said.

Online pool and college hoops coverage at Cincinnati.com

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