Thursday, March 20, 2003

XU can make its point twice

Chalmers, Finn double backcourt threat

By Dustin Dow
The Cincinnati Enquirer

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Xavier has something most teams want come March, something that has given the last three national champions an edge over the competition.

Maryland last year, Duke in 2001 and Michigan State in 2000 each had two players capable of playing point guard.

In the NCAA Tournament, when a single possession can mean the difference between advancing and going home, having an extra point guard to handle the pressure is invaluable.

That is part of the reason why No. 12 Xavier (25-5) likes its position entering Friday's first-round game against 14th-seeded Troy State. The Musketeers possess obvious strengths in U.S. Basketball Writers Player of the Year David West and Atlantic 10 first-team selection Romain Sato, but they also have two point guards.

Last season's point guard, Lionel Chalmers, moved over to shooting guard this season to make room for freshman point guard Dedrick Finn. As a result, Xavier has seen its scoring average increase by nearly six points and its assists go up by nearly four per game to 16.4. The efficiency has a lot to do with Chalmers' knowledge of the system and Finn's ever-growing command of running it.

"It's very important from the standpoint that you have two guys with a good pulse of what's going on out there," Xavier coach Thad Matta said. "I think Dedrick and Lionel have both shown they are very capable players, and we have to have those guys playing their best basketball."

It didn't take much to persuade Chalmers to make the move in late November, considering he came into Xavier four years ago as a shooting guard, his natural position. Until Finn was inserted into the lineup in the third game of the season, Chalmers was the point guard, a position he admitted he was still learning at the time. So he welcomed the chance to give up the reins of controlling the offense to Finn, a career point guard out of Castle High in Newburgh, Ind.

"When we got here (in 2001), they told us (Chalmers is) not a true point guard," Matta said. "He's more of a shooting guard. I think he is a little more comfortable there."

And Finn is probably more comfortable at point guard, although the two occasionally switch up to give defenses a different look or to give Finn an open jumper. He leads the team in 3-point shooting at 44 percent.

"I would say Dedrick is more of a point guard than Lionel is," Matta said. "Because of what Dedrick has been able to produce this year, we haven't run Lionel there a whole lot. But Lionel can go back there when he needs to."

Taking over for Chalmers at point guard wasn't as easy a transition for Finn as it was for Chalmers. Finn had to adjust to new teammates and a suddenly commanding role on the team just a few months after he arrived at Xavier. He laughs now at how long ago that seems.

"When he first put me in the starting lineup, I definitely felt like I didn't deserve to be there," Finn said. "But it wasn't my choice. That's what everybody kept saying. It's Coach's decision. Once I got that stuck in my head, I realized I just have to go out there and play and not worry about whose toes I'm stepping on. I just have to do what I can do for the team."

The NCAA Tournament has a way of showcasing guard play.

"We have to go out there and play hard and be leaders for our team," Finn said. "We can be aware of who's on the court and where they are supposed to be. With two people on the court, you can lead on the court as well."


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