Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Xavier has looked almost perfect in their 3-0 start thus far. Starting PG's Terrell Holloway and Mark Lyons have looked great running the show and Lyons has been a real scoring standout. Forwards Jamel McLean and Jason Love haven't let a rebound slip through their fingers yet and are looking like they can compete with any other down-low duo in the country. Jordan Crawford has officially announced his comeback with games of 14, 24 and 26 points coupled with some highlight defensive plays and a visible attitude that will hopefully reach the entire roster. New coach Chris Mack hasn't had to make many tough decisions as of yet but he's doing a great job of getting minutes for 11 players every night, something that will undoubtedly pay off in the future. If you can't tell yet, I'm pleased with the way the Musketeers performance so far, very pleased (how are we not ranked?).
This upcoming week/weekend is when the season really kicks off though. The Muskies travel to Orlando to take part in the Old Spice Classic, one of a million "preseason" tournaments and where X will finally catch some national attention. Being a fan of a smaller school like Xavier for many years has taught me one thing about tournaments like this: we need to win them more than anyone. It's hard for mid-majors to get shots at the Big 6 teams most of the time and they need to take advantage of them when they do. Xavier has done well in that respect over the past few seasons, taking down ranked teams like Memphis, Missouri, Villanova, and Indiana in preseason tournaments. These wins always help X's confidence early on as well as helping the Atlantic 10 not look so pitiful to the selection committee. Once again we have an opportunity to build a solid foundation for the rest of the schedule going forward while also helping our seed in March.
While I'm confident this is Xavier's tournament to lose, there are still some quality teams in the bracket. Let's look at some of them:
Key Players- G Mikhail Torrance, G Anthony Brock, F JaMychal Green
The Tide are stocked with talent on their roster this year, but are under direction of 1st year head coach Anthony Grant and trying to learn to play together in his new, up-tempo system. Grant coached at VCU for 3 years before coming to Alabama and was very successful there, reaching the NCAA tournament the past 2 seasons and even winning a game in 2008 (having Eric Maynor didn't hurt). Now he must learn how to handle having numerous stars on his team. Mikhail Torrance is a senior guard who can score in bunches and is the clear-cut leader of this squad. JaMychal Green and Anthony Brock are two other studs on the roster who can run and score quickly with Torrance, Green is also a former McDonald's All-American. Alabama certainly has enough weapons to win this thing and wouldn't play Xavier until the championship game so there's no reason they couldn't be tipping off against the Muskies on Sunday night.
Key Players- G LaceDarius Dunn, F/C Ekpe Udoh, G Tweety Carter
I've seen numerous Baylor games over the past few seasons and have always been entertained when they played. Their run-and-gun style is hectic and really puts pressure on the other team to adapt to it or be run out of the building. LaceDarius Dunn is the best player on the Bears roster and is averaging a staggering 25 points per game to start the season. PG Tweety Carter is just returning from a 4 game suspension to start the year but he's a speedster who can hit the 3 and has plenty of experience running this offense.Baylor's other key player is Ekpe Udoh, a transfer from Michigan who blocked 92 shots as a sophomore for the Wolverines and will try to continue his defensive prowess this season. The Bears can really put pressure on their opponents with their game style and, now that they're at full strength with Carter, have the ability to beat most teams in the country. Like Alabama, Baylor wouldn't have to face X until Sunday night in the title game so they have a good shot to win it if they can find some chemistry in their lineup.
Key Players- F Lazar Hayward, G Jimmy Butler
The Golden Eagles have a tough draw in the bracket, taking on Xavier in the first round on Thursday. Coach Buzz Williams lost a ton from last year's team (Jerel McNeal and Dominic James) and will be facing a tough schedule the entire way this season. One big piece Williams returns though is Lazar Hayward, a tough 6-6 forward who can score from inside and outside and will be counted on to lead this young Eagles team. Guard Jimmy Butler is another solid scorer for Marquette, averaging 17 points per game early on. Butler will have added responsibility in the backcourt as point guard Junior Cadougan was lost for the year with an Achilles injury and won't be able to assist handling the ball. Marquette is a solid program with great success over the past decade but are more than likely in for a rebuilding year this season in the Big East. Look for them to bow out early to the Muskies on Thursday.
Key Players- G Manny Harris, F DeShawn Sims
The Wolverines, currently ranked 15th in both polls, are poised to have a big year in the Big 10, building on last season's success where they made it to the 2nd round of the NCAA tournament. The main reasons for this excitement are guard Manny Harris and F DeShawn Sims, both top level talents who pose big matchup problems for opponents. Harris is a junior who has impressed his first 2 years at Michigan and is already averaging 21 points a game this season. Sims is a senior and one of the most versatile forwards in the country, scoring from all over the floor and making other forwards defend him away from the basket. Coach John Beilein has plenty of other pieces to compliment Harris and Sims and could easily take the Old Spice Classic trophy home to polish. A second round game with Xavier most likely looms and could be the best contest of the entire tournament, look for the winner of that to leave Orlando as the champ.
This is a solid field and the winner will definitely be tested throughout. Overall I think Xavier has the balance and gameplan to beat anyone they face and will ultimately win the tournament, but there's no reason they can't get knocked off in any round if they don't play well. I'm about to take off for Orlando to watch the action in person (and hit the links in between) so check out some of the tournament's games on ESPN and ESPN2 this weekend.Go Muskies!!