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Xavier v. Miami (OH): Preview

Xavier suffered a loss to Miami last year that was - considering the teams' respective positions at the end of the year - borderline senseless. Considering where the two teams are now, and the fact that Miami just edged what figures to be a pretty bad Dayton team in overtime, a loss this year would be even more ridiculous. Fortunately, Xavier has the guns to take care of business this time around.

Any discussion about the RedHawks has to begin with 6'8" senior forward Julian Mavunga. Mavunga does a little bit of everything for Miami, leading them in points, rebounds, and assists last year before turning the same trick for them in their only game this season. Mavunga can score from the post or by putting the ball on the deck, and his range is serviceable enough to force teams to respect him out to and beyond the three-point arc.

Mavunga also led the team in turnovers last time out, surrendering the ball six times. That highlights a team-wide problem for the RedHawks; they couldn't hold onto the ball last year, and they coughed it up 15 times against UD. That rang up to about one in every five possessions, which makes it really hard to get anything going on the offensive end. The ageless Charlie Coles brought in little help on the ball in the offesason, so his returning guys are going to need to step it up for the RedHawks to avoid another long season.

The 6'6", 245 pound forward Bill Edwards is a volume scorer, but a scorer nonetheless. His bulk and willingness to lift make him an interesting matchup for Xavier. He has a certain amount of athleticism as well, and most of his points come from close to the bucket. He's willing to shoot from deep (about 1.5 three-point attempts per game), but why he continues to do so is beyond me (.289 3P% on his career). One RedHawk who can shoot is freshman guard Brian Sullivan. He was brought in to put it up from deep, and he connected on 4 of 8 against UD.

Offensive rebounding continues to be a problem for Miami; they pulled down 11 of their 35 misses against Dayton, about on par with their rate from last year. In fact, just about everything that was a problem for the RedHawks last season held true in their opener this year. I know it's early to tell anything from the numbers, but Miami seems to be the same mediocre team they were last season. They'll be a step up from the first two teams Xavier has played, but not a huge one.

Three questions:
-How versatile is Andre Walker on defense?
Walker showed a decent amount of defensive range in his limited time on Frank Gaines against IPFW. Walker has four inches on Gaines and was able to frustrate the guard with his lateral mobility. If he can matchup with and handle Julian Mavunga, there's a good chance Xavier might have a sneaky-good, flexible defensive stopper in the squad.

-Who is going to step up in the paint? In the first two games of the year, Mark Lyons, Tu Holloway, and Dez Wells have carried the mail for the Muskies. That's all well and good now, but the level of athleticism of the perimeter defenders ahead on the schedule is going to be a lot higher. For the Muskies' perimeter game to continue to be effective, someone has to show that he can be a reliable post presence. Big Kenny is the obvious first choice, but Travis Taylor, Jeff Robinson, and Andrew Walker all have the size and skills to establish themselves inside.

-Can X defend a shooter? Both of the teams Xavier has played so far have been almost completely bereft of deep shooting threats. Not so for teams down the road; several of Xavier's tougher opponents feature players who can light it up from deep. Coach Mack plays the pack line defense, which focuses on crowding and choking off the middle of the floor. Brian Sullivan came into Oxford with the reputation as a shooter and his first game did nothing to dispel that. He's not on the same level as a John Jenkins, for instance, but he'll be good practice in containing a shooting threat for the Muskies.

Thee keys:
-Play 40 minutes.
Coach Mack was visibly chagrined on a couple of occasions last game as Xavier took some liberties with the fundamentals of basketball once the game was in hand. They should have that same luxury in this game, but the time is rapidly approaching where X will have to be all business to take home the win. Spending the whole game in the killing mood tonight will be a good step in that direction.

-Win the rebounding battle. Xavier started off well in this regard against IPFW but finished poorly. Kenny and company need to show up on the glass throughout the game, and the perimeter players need to keep Miami's guards - who accounted from five offensive boards against UD - contained. A continuation of Dez Wells' inspired assault on the offensive glass would be a nice cherry on top.

-Establish a third ball handler. Mark Lyons and Tu Holloway are both fully capable of running the point, but being able to have one of the off the ball and the other taking a breather would be a huge bonus for this team. Dee Davis looked a little shaky against the IPFW press last time out, prompting Cheek to retun to the game and tweak his ankle. Neither Cheek nor Tu is immune to injury and/or foul trouble; a third consistent point can be an integral ingredient for overcoming bumps in the road throughout the season.

Bottom line:
No way this should be anything but a W for the Muskies. Coming off two good tune-up games, this is the last chance for Xavier to work out the kinks before heading into one of the toughest non-conference stretches in the country. A comprehensive defeat of the RedHawks would signal that everything is in order for the big games ahead.