Another quick turnaround lends itself to another bare bones preview. Before the Bonnies and Musketeers met the first time, Joel profiled the Andrew Nicholoson led team. Xavier won that first meet, 77-64, despite an alarming number of missed dunks. At that point, Xavier was 3-1 in the conference and I was confidently predicting that The Funk was over. A lot has changed since then, but only the Bonnies remain between Xavier and an automatic bid and an A10 tournament championship.
Prior to getting to the questions and keys for the game, another look at the bubble is merited. Xavier's win over Saint Louis has moved it as close to the lock category as it can be. What that means is that a St. Bonaventure win tomorrow could potentially land four Atlantic 10 teams in the NCAAs. Temple and Saint Louis are certainly in, and Xavier is in unless the selection committee gets ridiculous. Winning today, of course, is still the best option.
- How much is left in the tank? Much like the ill-fated Scorcher franchise from the fake trailers in Tropic Thunder ("here we go again... again), this all has to seem familiar to the Musketeers. Once again, Xavier takes the court with a win being the only thing that 100% guarantees that they live to play again. Yesterday, the Musketeers took the Billikens best shot early and came back to record an impressive win. If the Muskies have the energy for one more effort, a season of turmoil will slip into the rearview.
- Nicholson or Conger? One of the two for St. Bonaventure is going to hurt you. Conger averages only 12ppg but gets that on a .516/.379/.793 shooting line. Nicholson gets all the attention, and earns it with his 18/8/1. Xavier cannot afford for both to go off today, or things will go downhill quickly. Conger's size will cause matchup issues with the New York duo, but if Dez Wells can handle him and Kenny Frease, hobbled with an ankle injury in the regular season meeting, can make Nicholson face up, Xavier will be in good shape.
- Does this team have the heart? All season long Xavier has masterfully shot themselves in the foot. Chances have slipped by, games have been lost after big leads, and all manner of poor starts have been endured. At the same time, the team has made several improabable comebacks, beaten Dayton twice in must wins, and now seems to have some fire back. Ripping through the A10 tournament would send a strong message that the Musketeers are a nightmare matchup.
Keys to the game:
- Feed Kenny: Frease has stepped up to the plate recently, and a good part of that comes from the fact that guards continue to get him the ball. If supply cuts off, the big man will be markedly less effective (obvious, right?).
- Play like your bid is on the line: Xavier has been playing for its tournament life the last two games, and the outcome has reflected that. While a bid is likely now, it isn't yet a sure thing. Winning the A10 tournament, however, is. Much like in boxing, it's best to leave it out of the judges hands.
- Make Nicholson face: Andrew Nicholson is a great face up big man, but he is still a big man. If Xavier can get him away from the rim and out where guards can offer a hand's worth of help, he will be less effective, if not marginalized.