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Xavier v. Dayton: Preview

"I really do despise them."
In that familiarity breeds contempt, it's no great surprise that there's little love lost between Xavier and Dayton. While the Flyers are down this year, XU and Dayton usually spend most of the A-10 season neck and neck at the top of the standings. With two games on the slate every year and the occasional high-leverage meeting in the conference tournament, these two teams have dealt each other enough resume damaging blows that neither is on the other's figurative Christmas card list.

When these two teams last met, Xavier had just polished off URI and UMass by a combined total of 66 points and were looking to start the "second season" better than they had ended the first. Dayton had gone 12-3 against a reasonably difficult non-conference schedule, but had stumbled out of the A-10 gate with a surprise loss against UMass. They were looking for a win against X to both boost their at-large resume and move them into meaningful contention for the A-10 title.

The game itself was hotly contested and physical, as games between these two teams always are. The teams were within a possession or so of each other the whole way; X looked to be opening things up with a 42-36 lead early in the second half, but UD came back with an 11-4 run to go on top. Xavier's bigs were manhandled on the glass all night; Kenny and McLean combined for as many boards as Chris Wright grabbed by himself. Dayton outrebounded X 30-25 overall and 11-6 on the offensive boards. Dayton guard Juwan Staten - known more for his ability to create assists without committing turnovers - led the way for Dayton with 17 points on 6-10/1-1/4-5 shooting.

Big Kenny came to play (offense).
Xavier fought through a poor outside shooting night - Dante was 1-8 from beyond the arc and the team was 4-15 - to collect a narrow home win. Defense was at a premium at both ends - both teams shot over 50% from the floor - but X forced 11 turnovers while on committing 5. Free throw shooting was a huge part of Xavier's success; the Muskies knocked down 25 of 29 free throws, including 19 of 22 in the second half. Tu led the way with 24-5-6 on 7-12/2-5/8-8 shooting, and Big Kenny chipped in 20 and 5 on 7-9/0-0/6-8.

Since that game, Cheek has continued to evolve, Dante has shaken off the doldrums, and X has taken control of the A-10 with a sterling February. XU still gets the fewest bench minutes of any team in the nation, but Robinson, Taylor, and Canty have all looked more like viable options of late. UD has struggled through the conference season, dropping home games to Richmond and Temple and roadies at Duquesne and URI. A home win against suddenly struggling Duquesne (called it!) shows the Flyers still have a pulse, but they're going to have to be special for the next three weeks to make the NCAA tournament.

These guys have all been president since UD won at X.
Winning on the road in this rivalry is tough business. Home teams have won 14 of the last 16 matchups, with the last road win being X over UD on 2/24/08. Dayton looks to be setting up to defend their NIT crown, but their lack of success this year won't diminish the intensity of the game. If any team is going to pull a road victory, they're going to have to be talented, mature, and tough. XU has demonstrated all of those characteristics this year, and knocking off UD would set the Muskies up for a great March.

Keys to the game:

-Rebound: Xavier is first in the conference in defending the glass and sixth in grabbing offensive boards; Dayton is third and seventh, respectively. XU got outmuscled and outhustled on the boards at Cintas; letting that happen at UD Arena would be a recipe for disaster.

-Be ready for physicality: In the few off games Tu has had this year, he seems to have been put off his game early by a defense that will hack, slap, bump, and otherwise impede him under the watchful eye of the officiating staff without any fouls being called. Just as importantly, the bigs have to come in ready to fight for real estate in and around the paint. If X can take a lickin' and keep on tickin', they'll go a long ways toward putting themselves in a position to win. In the meantime, don't expect X to shoot 22 second half free throws this time around.

-Play the game: Xavier has enough talent to not need anyone to try to be a hero against UD. As long as everyone executes within his role and nobody is afflicted by a rush of blood to the head, the Muskies have it in them to take care of business.

Toughness factor:

-I may have mentioned this above, but road wins are hard to come by in this rivalry. UD is not on par with Xavier in terms of talent, but the home court advantage probably puts these two teams on level pegging. I give this one a 3.