Thursday, March 14, 2002

Xavier tournament questions and answers

Biggest asset? Defense; Biggest liability? The draw

By Neil Schmidt
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The player Xavier will turn to:

        David West, of course. The two-time Atlantic 10 player of the year is the axis around which this team spins. He's the only player in the nation to lead his league in rebounds (9.8 avg.), blocks (2.5) and field-goal percentage (54.1 percent). His total of 45 career double-doubles is second-most among active players, trailing only the 55 of Marshall senior J.R. VanHoose. He scored in double figures in every game except the Cincinnati loss, in which he injured his ankle after scoring nine points. He has made nearly twice as many free throws (177) as any other Musketeer.

        The guy Xavier must have playing well:

        Kevin Frey. How invaluable is the experience of a four-year starter? His shooting struggles ceased in the A-10 Tournament, where he averaged 10.3 points, shooting 57.1 percent overall (12-of-21) and 45.5 percent on 3-pointers (5-of-11). Remember, Frey's production is paramount. Dating to the start of his sophomore season, XU is 34-5 when he scores in double figures (including 11-1 this season) and 34-20 when he doesn't. This season, he is averaging 9.1 points in victories, 6.6 in losses.

        The team Xavier doesn't want to face:

        Oklahoma (27-4). Unfortunately, the Sooners will likely be waiting Sunday if XU beats Hawaii. Oklahoma is still ticked that it didn't get a No. 1 seed despite beating Kansas in the Big 12 Tournament finals. They might take it out on the Musketeers.

        What gives Xavier its best hope to get to Atlanta?

        Honestly? Upsets in the bracket. Xavier didn't get a fortunate seeding, having hoped to avoid sharing the same pod as a No. 1 or 2 seed. But should XU beat Hawaii and then upset Oklahoma, maybe someone else will beat Cincinnati or Arizona to further open up the draw.

        What could get Xavier bounced in the first round?

        Lack of offensive movement. When XU struggles with ball movement, it's often because players settle for quick outside shots. XU coach Thad Matta's mantra is, “A bad shot is often just like a turnover, because it can lead to an easy basket on the other end.” The Musketeers must swing the ball quickly around the perimeter and ensure West gets enough touches.

        What was Xavier's best win?

        A 62-56 victory Dec. 20 over Kent State. That's despite the fact KSU got a lower seed than did Wisconsin, which XU also beat. The Golden Flashes (27-5) didn't look like a marquee opponent in preseason, but they won 23 of 24 after losing to XU and finished with the second-best RPI (25th) on XU's schedule.

        What was Hawaii's best win?

        It dunked Georgia 54-44 Dec. 22 in the finals of the Hawaii-Hilo Big Island Invitational. It was one of just two non-conference losses for the Bulldogs, who drew a No. 3 seed in this tournament. Like XU, UH also beat Wisconsin.

        What was Xavier's worst loss?

        A 70-66 defeat Dec. 5 at Purdue. In preseason that looked like one of XU's toughest tests, but the Boilermakers would melt down and finish 13-18, rated 100th in the RPI. XU rallied from 12 points down to take a lead with 3:47 left but was then outscored 15-5 the next three minutes.

        What was Hawaii's worst loss?

        A 57-53 loss Jan. 19 at San Jose State. The Spartans finished 10-22, No. 245 in the RPI. As if the Rainbow Warriors knew to be embarrassed, they atoned for it by hammering SJSU 71-46 four weeks later.

        Where is Xavier now, compared to November? What's gotten better, or possibly worse?

        This has become one of the finest defensive teams in school history. XU's .400 defensive field-goal percentage is its lowest in 45 seasons. Its defensive scoring average of 62.2 points is its lowest in 52 years. Its .305 defensive 3-point percentage is a fraction off the school-record .303, set last winter. Matta's emphasis on fundamentals has also shown up in good shot selection. The Musketeers have shot 45.1 percent, up from 42.7 last year, and made 35.8 percent of their 3-pointers, up from 30.3.

        It'd be hard to suggest anything has gotten worse. But if you're looking for trouble spots, it's in falling behind early. In each of its last three losses, XU fell behind by 13 points in the first half. Plus, XU must make outside shots so defenses can't cheat too much inside on West. Poor 3-point shooting doomed the Musketeers in their losses to Purdue (4-of-23) and Cincinnati (4-of-14) and was nearly fatal last week against Massachusetts (4-of-25).


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