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Xavier v. Charlotte: Preview

"How good do I look on the 'tron, fellas?"
Last time Xavier played Charlotte, the Muskies were leading the A-10, rising in bracket predictions, and riding a seven-game winning streak. Charlotte had only won one A-10 game - at home against Fordham - and their most recent showing had been a double-overtime loss to LaSalle. Xavier's momentum ground to a halt that night in Charlotte, as the 49ers dealt X an embarrassing 66-62 loss. Since then, X hasn't lost and Charlotte hasn't won; Xavier has now climbed to 22nd in the RPI while Charlotte languishes in 218th. That game is all that is separating the teams from a 14-game winning streak and an 11-game losing streak, respectively.

One huge factor in the Xavier loss was the effectiveness of the Charlotte zone. Driving lanes were hard to come by for the Musketeers, and Tu Holloway struggled through a performance that could graciously be called horrible. His 12-6-3 line came with 6 turnovers and a 3-17/0-8/6-6 shooting performance. Big Kenny was also curiously absent against the 141st tallest team in the nation; the 3-5-0 on 1-5/0-0/1-2 that he posted was his worst performance since the goose egg he threw up against Gonzaga.

Mark Lyons did what he could to lead the way for X, and I doubt anyone is blaming his 25-5-3 on 8-13/3-8/6-6 for the loss. Jamel McLean also answered the bell with 17-10 on 8-12/0-0/1-3 shooting. Xavier did manage to outrebound Charlotte 33-30 and owned the advantage on the offensive glass 7-2. X's 11 turnovers to only 6 assists attest to how stymied the Musketeers were by the Charlotte zone. Unable to shoot the 49ers out of it - Muskies not named Mark Lyons were 0-12 from behind the arc - Xavier continued to settle for jump shots that were altogether ineffective. An above average shooting night from deep for Charlotte (6-15) was the final ingredient in this little recipe for disaster.

In much the same vein as the butt-kicking Xavier dished out to LaSalle after drifting through the Fordham win, I anticipate Coach Mack will have the team ready to go tomorrow night. Charlotte is not a good defensive team - they are dead last in the conference in two-point FG% surrendered - and they haven't been especially strong in recent games. Their offense is in the middle of the A-10 pack in shooting, and they are last in the conference in terms of avoiding turnovers.

Xavier, on the other hand, has only gotten stronger since the loss. Dante, who was 0-4 on the night from deep, has hit 16 of his 30 threes since then. Kenny has averaged 11-8 in the ensuing games and should be able to establish himself on the block. Tu has gone back to being the premier big-moment PG in the country, and I very much doubt he will let a chance to avenge his worst conference game of the year slip by. Cheek has continued to achieve his goal of being a consistent impact player, and McLean been a workman like force on the boards. Finally, Xavier has even gotten some bench production in recent games that had been sorely lacking. With the #1 overall seed in the A-10 tourney there for the taking and senior night festivities before the game, I don't anticipate another flat performance from X.

Keys to the game:
-Move the ball: Xavier's offense was stagnant at Charlotte, and they ended the game with a meager six assists. Quick ball motion, especially through the high or low post, opens up gaps in a zone that guards can attack. Xavier players need to be committed to keeping the ball moving to open up clean looks deep into possessions.

-Work the paint: Against a team running a zone, it can be difficult to get the ball into the middle, but that's where easy buckets are to be had. Charlotte's interior defense is pretty porous, so getting McLean and Kenny touches early will be key.

-Bury the game: Xavier was up 16-4 nine minutes into the game at Charlotte. By halftime, the Muskies trailed. Xavier needs to show the same killer instinct they demonstrated against LaSalle and open up a can if the situation presents itself.

Toughness factor:
-Hosting a team that hasn't won a conference road game since their victory at Fordham in February 2010, on senior day, with the added factor of avenging their only conference loss, I don't see any reason Xavier doesn't run away with this one and send the three-headed monster out with some playing time. This one is a 1.