First off, I've never been more excited to write a game preview. Down six with three minutes to play, things did not look promising. Instead, Xavier won what should be a win and in game in dramatic fashion last night, and now has a chance to lock up a bid and improve seeding with Saint Louis on tap. We have already profiled the Billikens twice, so after the jump will just be the questions and the keys to the game.
Meanwhile, over on the bubble, Xavier also got some help. Miami fought to the bitter end, but lost to Florida State, and Texas got trounced by Missouri. Tennessee, a late media darling, lost a disputed game to Ole Miss, and, of course, Dayton lost. All in all, it was another good bubble day for the Musketeers.
- What is left in the tank? If you thought that Xavier had become an emotionless team that just went through the motions, the postgame celebrations last night probably cleared that up. However, a large expenditure of emotion is often hard to follow. Xavier had to rally twice to win last night, from down ten at the half and again from down six late in the game. Coach Mack managed to get Tu Holloway two minutes of rest, but he, Mark Lyons (32), and Kenny Frease (34) all went over the 30 minute mark. The Billikens slower pace may be perfect for the Musketeers tomorrow.
- Three point defense? This is no longer a key, it's a question. Dayton fired off 26 threes last night and Xavier was fortunate that only eight fell. Saint Louis doesn't heave like the Flyers, but they have managed to go 13-42 against the Musketeers this year. That's only 30.9%, but it doesn't take many of those looks to fall before a close game turns into a rout.
- Is Mark Lyons a threat again? Between the Jan 28 win at Charlotte and last night's win over Dayton, Lyons shot only 35% from the floor to go with 26% from deep. It's no coincidence that Xavier did not win back to back games in that entire stretch. Last night, Mark Lyons threw Xavier on his back with 2:47 to go and went on a personal 8-0 run to win the game. His line of 12/2/5 came on a much more efficient 4-8/1-3/3-3 shooting effort. If he can stay efficient, Xavier is a far better team.
Keys to the game:
- Stop Brian Conklin: Conklin has dominated the first two matchups, posting a combined line of 42/10/3. What Conklin hasn't done is beat the new and improved Kenny Frease. If Xavier can protect Frease from foul trouble, the Billikens mop headed forward may have issues just running wild again.
- Be patient on defense: Saint Louis will want to play a slow, methodical game on offense, and force bad shots with stifling half court defense. Xavier kept that from happening by not gambling on defense in the first half in St. Louis, and it paid off with 39 points. If Xavier executes well on defense, they will get the chance to run. If the Musketeers get greedy and start taking risks, the Billikens will torch them.
- Carry momentum: While emotion can take a lot out of a team, it can also provide a huge spark. If Xavier can jump on Saint Louis early, all will be well in Muskie land. Beating Dayton gave Xavier a chance to finally get something rolling again. A quick start, and that emotion may boost some tired legs. If Saint Louis can get Xavier in a hole early, all that fatigue may lead to a long afternoon.