SALT LAKE CITY, Utah -- "There's no revenge at all," says Dante' Jackson. "Win or lose that first game, this one is for the Elite Eight.
Nothing that happened in the past matters." Jackson is Xavier's 6-foot-5 junior guard, who would probably just as soon forget that first game, a 71-56 loss in Manhattan back on Dec. 8. After all, he was held scoreless, missing all three of his casts toward the bucket.
But for the record, it will be No. 2 seed and 28-7 Kansas State facing No. 6 seed and 26-8 Xavier tonight at 8:37 (central time) here at the EnergySolutions Arena. The winner advances to the Elite Eight on Saturday against the winner of the Syracuse – Butler game.
But now, back to the December game, which remains vivid in the mind of Xavier's 7-foot sophomore Kenny Frease: "We had never seen a defense like that. We were starting our offense 27 feet from the basket. At times, we couldn't even see the basket because it seemed like they had 10 players playing defense."
K-State held Xavier to 29 percent shooting that night in Bramlage Coliseum, plus the ‘Cats won the rebounding game at 13, which led to a 16-5 advantage in second-chance points.
Looking back, however, Xavier coach Chris Mack said, "It was a game that made our kids and our team a lot stronger. We're better because of that game. We weren't that poor defensively, but we had no answers on the backboard."
Martin agreed: "Our bigs," answered the K-State coach on the key to victory. "We got rebounds and we got to the foul line (23-of-40)."
Both Musketeers promised offensive changes from that game, and what Kansas State coach Frank Martin promises is a much better Xavier team than the one the Wildcats faced over three months ago.
"They were very talented when they started, but now they have a better understanding of what a first-year coach wants," said Martin. "They're a lot smother on offense, and defensively they're more consistent. You don't see as many rough spots."
While both teams are at their best in a running mode, defensively they go about their business in different ways.
"Our philosophy is contesting shots and making sure it's one-and-done on the defensive end, where I think Kansas State tries to take you out of everything you run offensively," said Mack.
"The beauty of K-State is they don't necessarily key on one guy. They just make it tough on every player on the floor."
Jordan Crawford was 5-of-13 against Kansas State, scoring 16 points, or four below his season norm. The 6-4 sophomore is currently on a run of five straight 20-point games – 27, 28, 20, 20 and 22 – entering tonight's play.
"My teammates have helped me in finding a comfort zone," said Crawford. "It's not just me making shots."
Teammate Jackson, however, says, "I can't believe anyone is playing any better in the country," said Jackson.
While both teams average 80 points per game, Crawford said, "I'll be surprised if it's a game like that. I think it will be a defensive game.
If either team scores 80, I'll be surprised." The Muskateers are more concerning about out-rebounding the Wildcats than out-scoring them.
As Frease said, "We watched the Kansas game and how they competed against Cole Aldrich, who is one of the best big men in the country. Even he was struggling to contain them on the boards. We have to rebound. It seemed like they scored half their points on second shots in the first game."
But then, there is K-State's guard play, and the speed with which Denis Clemente plays.
"He's just a blur on tape," said Frease.
As to the better guard between Pullen and Clemente, Crawford said, "I'm sure our coaches have had some headaches looking at those guys on tape. I don't see how you could take one over the other. Clemente is really running the team, but then Pullen is shooting lights out."