By Dustin Dow
The Cincinnati Enquirer
No. 12-ranked Xavier and its first-round NCAA Tournament opponent, Troy State, could not be more different.
The third-seeded Musketeers employ a strict brand of half-court basketball built around man-to-man defense, proper execution of offensive sets and running a fast break when it's available.
Troy State, the 14 seed out of the Atlantic Sun Conference, is the opposite, relying on a trapping zone defense to set up fast-break opportunities nearly every possession with the underlying principle that an open shot is a good shot. The Trojans (26-5) launched 887 3-pointers this season, making 9.7 per game, good for fourth in the nation.
It's that type of frenetic pace Xavier wants to avoid. The Musketeers have shown to be much more effective this season from a half-court set rather than running wildly up and down the court.
Xavier scored 96 points against Temple on March 8 by deliberately attacking the Owls' zone with several passes and away-from-the-ball movement. It resulted in a school-record 14 3-pointers, most of which were wide open. Just six of Xavier's points came on fast breaks in that game, and 26 of the 27 baskets were assisted.
The same results were seen Feb. 15 against Rhode Island when Xavier ran its offense so well that 28 of 31 baskets were assisted. In that game, Xavier scored 14 fast-break points, because the Musketeers wisely took advantage of obvious fast-break situations, which is what they want to do against Troy State.
"We have to have a mentality of attack early for great shots, or attack late for great shots," said XU assistant John Groce. "If we can't get a layup or a wide-open shot in a certain guy's range, then no problem. Slow down, and let's get a great shot late and make them defend a little bit."
When Xavier gets too involved in a full-court game, the Musketeers are more vulnerable to turnovers and often shoot a lower percentage. In the second half of a fast-paced Atlantic10 quarterfinal game against George Washington, Xavier shot just 33 percent. The Musketeers had as many turnovers, 13, as they did assists.
That doesn't mean Xavier is going to intentionally slow down to avoid a fast-break situation, but XU has to take care of the ball when it is in transition.
"We're going to play how we play," Groce said. "If we have a two-on-one or three-on-two, or David (West) gets the ball off the glass and outlets to Dedrick (Finn), we're not just going to stop just so we can say we're slowing the game down. We're going to take what they give us."
Troy State intends to force Xavier into a disorganized fast break by aggressively trapping in the backcourt and forcing players to handle the ball out of position so Troy State can get the ball back as soon as possible. Most of Troy State's players can defend a variety of positions.
"Our kids are very athletic," Troy State coach Don Maestri said. "But we don't have the size of Xavier down low. So we've got guys that can shoot 3-point shots, but rebounding will be another challenge for us."
If Troy State can keep the pace up, it will reduce the impact Xavier's forwards, David West and Anthony Myles, have inside. The biggest players on the court, they are usually the last ones down in transition offensively or defensively. They also can be the most dangerous to Troy State if the Trojans are unable to keep West and Myles off the offensive boards.
"We're just going to have to impose our will on them," West said. "I think we have the advantage inside, so we need to continually pound them to slow them down. They play zone, so we have to make sure we get a lot of ball movement. They're smaller and like to get up and down. It's like a boxer. If you land heavy shots to a guy who's quick and fast, eventually he slows down."
Troy State's rotation involves 10 players, necessarily deep for the type of game Maestri plays. That is an advantage over Xavier's seven-man rotation if Troy State can force a running game. Outside of Finn and Lionel Chalmers, Xavier has no one to run the offense.
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