By Dustin Dow
The Cincinnati Enquirer
What a difference three quality wins make. After starting the season 2-1, No.13 Xavier faced a four-game stretch that would figure heavily into the success against its nonconference schedule. So far, the Musketeers have done little wrong and are 3-0, having defeated Purdue, Cincinnati and Miami, with No. 24 Mississippi State to come Saturday in New York.
Xavier (5-1) still has challengers such as Ball State, No.23 Creighton and No.2 Alabama in the near future, but a positive showing in these four games was imperative after XU missed out on a Preseason NIT semifinal bid by losing to Stanford in the second round. Even a loss to Mississippi State (5-1) still would give Xavier a respectable 3-1 record over the 11 days. A win could bump XU into a top-10 ranking.
"We wanted to go out there and show everybody that we were a Top 25 team," said freshman point guard Dedrick Finn. "In order to do that, we had to avenge the loss to Stanford. We just had to go out and play our game and try to knock off the other teams."
The team has a changed attitude as well, which Finn said has motivated players lately.
"After we lost to Stanford, we realized we had a lot of things to learn," Finn said. "We started listening harder and became more intense and starting taking things a lot more serious."
Xavier coach Thad Matta said the biggest win came against Cincinnati because it was a road game, whereas the other two were at Cintas Center.
"Those were all quality wins," Matta said, "because there was such a short period of time before each game."
Because of the local nature of the first three games, Xavier forward David West said the games were more intense than most nonconference games.
"All three teams were very physical and played a similar type of basketball," West said. "The last two (Cincinnati and Miami) were like a day and a half apart, which was a quick turnaround and difficult to play."
But those three wins, he said, helped Xavier get physically ready for a big Mississippi State team.
"We just have to get our legs back, and we'll be fresh for Saturday," West said.
After MSU, the Musketeers have five days off for final exams before playing host to Ball State Dec.20 at Cintas Center.
"We practiced hard all the way through," Matta said. "So it's good to get some rest."
Xavier has won four straight games, including Florida A&M on Nov. 24, the first time Finn entered the starting lineup. Saturday, Finn will be playing against one of the teams that recruited him. Although he never made an official visit to Mississippi State, Finn said it was high on his list of potential schools, which makes Saturday's game that much more important to him.
"To me it's real big," Finn said, "because if I didn't go to Xavier, I would have been at Mississippi State. So to play at Madison Square Garden is one thing. To play against a school that I was going to go to is another thing. They're (MSU staff) classy guys, so I doubt they will give me any flak."
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