We'll admit to not knowing a whole lot about Xavier, at least not this year's
team. We've followed them casually though for a long time, because while
they don't get the attention that Duke and Kentucky and Kansas get, they are one
of America's great basketball schools. Think about it: from at least
the time Bob Staack was there (before he flamed out at Wake Forest), through
Pete Gillen, then Skip Prosser, and then Thad Matta, the Musketeers have been
consistently very, very good. Who else goes through that many coaching
changes and still stays solid? What they've done is reallly remarkable,
and they deserve to be celebrated for it, and also for doing things the right
way. They have an annual game with cross-town rival Cincinnati, which is a
huge event in town, and the contrast couldn't be more glaring: the Bearcats, if
they don't cut corners, are certainly perceived as doing so, with near-annual
off-season arrests, academic issues, and various other things. They recruit questionable talent, and in spite of
everything, Xavier usually beats them like a drum. There's a lot to like
about the Musketeers.
Start with the stellar backcourt. Romain Sato is a major matchup
problem, and Lionel Chalmers going against Chris Duhon should be a tremendous
Xavier goes about nine deep, with eight guys getting double-figure
minutes. To give you a bit of an idea of how unusual Sato is, he is the
leading rebounder at 8.1 per game. He averages 16.1, ppg, and Chalmers
hits for 16.0. Only one other player gets double digits, 6 -9 Anthony
After Miles, freshman Justin Doellman gets 24.7 minutes a game and gets 7.3
ppg and 3.4 boards. They have a couple of other big guys, but they don't
play as much.
The front line goes 6-9, 6-9, 6-6, but with a lot of guys getting minutes,
the lineup will change constantly.
Worth noting: Sato and Chalmers didn't come out at all in the Texas
Texas held Chalmers to 4-15 shooting, but Sato went off, going 14-17 - oh,
wait, our bad. That was from the line. He was 5-13 from the
floor. Chalmers was 4-15. So their stars went 9-28, taking nearly half of
Xavier's total shots.
Given how Rick Barnes coaches defense, that's not surprising, nor is the
disparity in free throws: Xavier was 25-35, and Texas was 12-17, a point
which Rick Barnes underscored to the referees just before being ejected.
The big question with these guys is how to stop Sato. At 6 -5, he is a
matchup problem for Duke. Redick may draw him, but he can probably get
past Redick. Duhon could guard him, but he could overpower Duhon.
Ditto Ewing. It is possible that Sean Dockery could be strong enough and
if not big enough then quick enough to cause him problems. Deng may be the
defensive answer, ultimately.
With such a large part of their offense coming from their guards, it's a bit
reminiscent of St. Joe's, who relied so heavily on Nelson and West before losing
to Oklahoma State. It may well be that the way Duke attacks Xavier is by
strangling the frontcourt and forcing the guards to do it all themselves.
They might be capable of that, too, but playing 40 minutes against a physical
team like Texas could come back to haunt them at the end.
For Xavier, they'll have a tough matchup with Shelden Williams.
Williams, who has struggled all season with foul trouble, did a great job
against Illinois in that regard, and was able to play 35 minutes.
Deng has also been a problem for just about everyone, and he'll make someone
from Xavier chase him as well.
It occurred to us that in a moment of desperation, Duke might shift to a zone
to shut down Sato, but that might not work too well: he shoots 33.9% from
three point range, Chalmers shoots 41.1%, and Doellman, in a surprise we weren't
expecting, kicks in with 43.6%. So a zone might backfire.
What it comes down to is what is always comes down to for Duke: hard nosed
defense, getting the ball into Williams, and hitting some threes. If they
can control the guards, and Doellman, their prospects are good.
And if Xavier wins? We want to win, obviously. But this is a
program which does everything the right way. We have an enormous respect
for Xavier, for their commitment to academics, and they wouldn't be the worst
team in the world to lose to, if you have to lose.