Friday, March 15, 2002

Ragtag Muskies prepare to dance

UH stands in way of XU improving on last year

By Neil Schmidt,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        DALLAS — There were reasons to sell short Xavier this season.

        New coach. Nine scholarship players. No frontcourt depth. One starter with an ankle that hasn't healed, another now with a broken wrist. A prediction of third in its conference. A 5-3 start.

        Yet there the Musketeers were Thursday, striding around American Airlines Center and looking relaxed, as if they expected to be here all along. Which they had.

        In the locker room last year after the season-ending NCAA Tournament loss to Notre Dame, David West verbalized it: “When that final buzzer sounded, I said, "We've got to get back here.'”

        That wait is over. A team that has whispered about the Sweet 16 since May 3, the day Thad Matta first met his new team and gave it that goal, takes its first step today in a West Regional first-round game against Hawaii (27-5).

        The poster children for this scrappy season are Kevin Frey and Dave Young. The former has said he hasn't had a healthy game in his 128-game career, the longest in school history, and he still suffers with a surgically repaired ankle that caused him to consider redshirting. The latter messed up both wrists a week ago but suggested he'd have played today even if his arms were amputated.

        “I obviously feel a difference, and I'm certainly not 100 percent,” said Young, who suffered a hairline fracture in his left wrist and sprained his right wrist. “But I'm still able to contribute, so there's no way I wouldn't play.”

        The seventh-seeded Musketeers (25-5) have won 20 of their last 22 games yet say they still lack national respect. Certainly, the 10th-seeded Rainbow Warriors seem a trendy upset pick.

        XU is a slim favorite in the point spread, but in a sampling of 18 national experts who have published their predictions, 13 picked UH today.

        It may make the Musketeers feel better knowing UH sings the same song. Few of its games are televised, most of them starting after midnight on the East Coast, and its finest season in school history wasn't rewarded with a ranking until this week.

        The matchup, statistically, is one of the most even of this tournament.

        Both teams are ranked. Both won their league's regular-season and tournament titles. XU averages 72.2 points and allows 62.8; UH averages 72.7 and allows 62.2. XU shoots 45.3 percent and holds opponents to 40.8; UH shoots 45.1 percent and allows 40.0.

        There are differences. UH's top three scorers are perimeter players. Its flex-motion offense is designed to confuse defenses until an open shot develops, which can be a backdoor layup or a 22-foot heave.

        UH made a school-record 233 3-pointers, averaging nearly nine 3s a game in Western Athletic Conference play.

        UH has been outrebounded by an average of 1.2 per game, so XU figures to have an advantage inside. It will be critical for West (18.5 ppg) to stay out of foul trouble and stay involved.

        Ultimately, March basketball often comes down to defense, poise and heart. That's where these Musketeers have most impressed.

        “This team has been mentally tough, and we've played together all year,” Frey said. “I think we're ready.”


Xavier Stories
Xavier rallies to beat Hawaii
Oklahoma 71, Illinois-Chicago 63
- Ragtag Muskies prepare to dance
SULLIVAN: Future is now for West
Success starts with Chalmers

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DAUGHERTY: March Madness
Confident Bearcats thinking big
Twyman family nostalgic as UC-BU matchup nears
UC notebook
UC Women: For Pirtle, tourney was season-long
Buckeyes hold off tough Wildcats
Wildcats buck upset trend
NCAA Notebook
East Region roundup
Midwest Region roundup
South Region roundup
West Region roundup
NIT roundup
NIT scores
Maple Leafs topple Bruins
Sprewell pops Kings for 43 points in win
Coming up this week
Larkin leaves game against Yankees
Reds have big plans for final games
Reds notebook
Yankees 2, Reds 1
Baseball notebook
Bengals notebook
NFL notebook
Zone saves Winton Woods
Despite success, Tracy needs to leave Clermont Northeastern
Eastern Brown advances
St. Ursula, Rocky River evenly matched
Switch of offense boosts Reading past Hartley
Division II girls
Division IV girls
North Hardin, Lex Cath advance to Sweet Sixteen quarterfinals
Tournament pairings and results
Gymnastics all-stars

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