SCOUTING THE MUSKETEERS
Cincinnati's "other" team has achieved ascendancy in the Queen City, and it has done so by building a strong, balanced team that gets contributions from just about everyone on the roster. Eight Muskies have started at least one game this year, and with seven players averaging at least six points per game, Xavier is difficult to hold down.
Against West Virginia, Xavier is expected to deploy its most active lineup. In the frontcourt, Josh Duncan (Sr., 6-9, 240 lbs.) Derrick Brown (So., 6-8, 225 lbs.) and C.J. Anderson (Jr., 6-6, 220 lbs.) are all long, strong players who fit well together. Duncan averages 12.1 points and 4.1 rebounds per game, and takes advantage of his numerous free throw opportunities to the tune of an 85.4% success rate. Brown is the team's best front line defender (32 blocks and 28 steals), but also finds time to toss in 10.9 points and snare 6.7 rebounds per game. Anderson completes the productive trio with 10.7 points and 5.9 boards per contest.
The story is much the same in the backcourt, where Drew Lavender (Sr., 5-7, 150 lbs.) and Stanley Burrell (Sr., 6-3, 210 lbs.) form an excellent complementary pair. Lavender averages 11.0 points per game, and leads the team in steals and assists. Burrell, the squad's best defender, narrowly misses double digit scoring, tossing in 9.8 points per outing.
Off the bench, junior swingman B.J. Raymond (Jr., 6-6, 225 lbs.) provides backup support at both the guard and forward spots. He is the team's leading three-point threat, having launched 192 long-range tries this year. Jason Love, who has started 21 games this year, now gives support in a relief role. Love (So., 6-9, 255 lbs.) averages 6.1 points and an impressive 5.4 rebounds in just less than 18 minutes per game. Dante' Jackson (Fr., 6-5 205 lbs.) is the fourth option at guard, and gives quality support time for approximately ten minutes per game
Xavier provides all sorts of problems with its balanced scoring and rebounding, but one aspect of that level play makes the Musketeers more difficult to defend than most teams.
|Thu Mar 27
WVU - 7
In order to advance to the Elite Eight, WVU must come up with a defensive effort as balanced as Xavier's attack. The Mountaineers must find a way to contain Xavier's inside game without leaving outside shooters uncovered – a difficult task that few Xavier opponents have been able to master. Perhaps the best method to do so would be to disrupt the timing and rhythm of the Musketeer attack. But again, doing so is much easier in the talking than in the doing. WVU will have to do so in a one-on-one defensive matchup, as leaving any Xavier player open on the floor will likely wind up in an open shot and points.
In doing so, West Virginia must also avoid another problem that has plagued it throughout the postseason – foul trouble. WVU has seen Darris Nichols and Da'Sean Butler spend long stretches of its NCAA games on the bench, and the Mountaineers simply can't afford that against a team as good as Xavier. WVU must have all of its weapons in order to defeat the Musketeers, who go eight or nine deep with no appreciable drop-off in play. If West Virginia has to play for 15-20 minutes without any of its top seven players, it will face an uphill fight to remain in the tournament. The key? Fundamentals. The deeper teams go into the postseason, the more important fundamentals become. For West Virginia, the defensive basics, including good position, avoidance of reaching or committing silly fouls, and boxing out. If they execute them, not only should they avoid some of the unnecessary fouls they have been committing, but also reap the benefits that come from such play.
WVU: Cam Thoroughman (Knee) Probable
Xavier's 29 wins in 2007-08 are the best in school history. With a win over the Mountaineers, the Musketeers would win 30 for the first time ever. Xavier's 54 wins over the past two years is also a school mark.
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Another game, another record for Darris Nichols. Against Xavier, Nichols will pass Jerry West (1958-60) and Willie Akers (1958-60) for most NCAA games at WVU with ten. Nichols will also break his own single season minutes played record when he spends his 11th minute on the floor. Nichols played 1,251 minutes last year and is just ten short of that mark this season.
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Xavier has made a habit of finishing strongly over the past few seasons. The Musketeers are 14-0 in February over the last two years, and own the second best March record since 2001. Xavier 34-11 over that span, second only to Kansas.
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Despite winning the A-10 regular season title, Xavier did not place any players on the league's first team all-conference list. That may illustrate voters' overreliance on stats. Xavier's balance led to modest scoring and rebounding averages for its players, and may have led to some of them being passed over for first team honors.