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Big East Tournament preview: Xavier v. DePaul

The Muskies take a third shot at getting their 20th win in first-round action in the Big East Tournament. A win here likely punches Xavier's ticket and gives them another crack at Nova.

NCAA Basketball: DePaul at Xavier Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

There are no secrets in conference play, and that goes double for the conference tournament. Because of the beauty of the Big East schedule, everyone has played everyone twice. There are no fresh wrinkles being thrown in at this stage. There isn't a sudden personnel change that is going to catch the opponent flat-footed. It comes down to planning, management, and execution.

Xavier isn't in an ideal position in having to play Wednesday, but they are playing one of the teams they swept in conference play this year. The Muskies knocked off DePaul 67-59 at DePaul on February 4th, then completed the sweep with a 78-67 win at home exactly three weeks later.

You're probably already familiar with DePaul and I don't want to go to the effort of finding a third way to say the same things about their players and strategy, so let's break this down a little differently.

Danger man

Paul Reed. DePaul's big man went for 32 and 25 in the two meetings in the regular season, and he picked up 5 blocked shots and 8 steals for good measure. His versatile game and freakish athleticism make him a nightmare matchup for Xavier. He can pull Tyrique Jones away from the rim, but Zach Freemantle isn't advanced enough a defender for the matchup and Jason Carter isn't a physical match. If Reed goes nuts - think his 25 and 12 on 10-14 shooting or his 23 and 9 on just 9 shots against Butler - Xavier could find themselves in a real battle.

The huge curveball in all this is Reed's injury status. He has missed the last three games with a nagging lower body problem, and DePaul hasn't made an announcement regarding his availability tonight. If he can't go, the Blue Demons' biggest weapon is suddenly neutralized.

Breakout candidate

Charlie Moore. Moore will have the ball in his hands for most of the game for DePaul. He's a high-usage guy who has had games that he has controlled with scoring and distribution, but Xavier has done a really good job of keeping him in check. Unfortunately, Paul Scruggs's status is still day-to-day, and his defensive abilities are a big part of Xavier's perimeter lockdown. If Moore becomes rampant - it doesn't even have to be the 29/0/6 he dropped on Nova; his 20/7/5 against St. John's and 20/3/7 against Georgetown also come to mind - the who setup starts to click for DePaul. X doesn't want to have to turn that kind of momentum.

Wild card

Jalen Coleman-Lands. He's in a horrific 7-36 slump from deep dating back to the first Xavier game, but he's the closest thing DePaul has to a big-time shooter. He has hit 3 or more threes in a game 10 times this year and hit 4 or more on 5 occasions. He had shifted the momentum of the first meeting with hot shooting until Bryce Moore shut him down, but with Paul Scruggs maybe not available, it's not clear that option will be open for X tonight. Coleman-Lands can put them up in a hurry, but he can also be a walking defensive rebound. Things break weirdly sometimes.

DePaul wins if...

They keep the game out of the half court. Xavier's defense can lock down on almost anyone, and DePaul isn't built to score against a set opponent. They're the worst offense in the league, the worst shooting team in the league, and the worst ball security team in the league. If they're not lifting in a hurry in transitions and getting stickbacks off of scrambles they don't have much of a plan B. They'll turn teams over a ton and run out for quick attempts at the bucket. If they can make that happen consistently tonight, they'll move on.

Xavier wins if...

They start and stay locked in. The Muskies were down 11 just 10 minutes into the Providence game. They scored just 25 points in their first 30 possessions against Butler. For all the furious fightbacks we've seen from this squad, what has been all too rare is a dominant wire-to-wire performance. A frenetic feel definitely favors DePaul; the more business-like this game is, the more likely it is X comes away with the win. They can't afford the risk of chasing the game or having to try to find momentum again after taking their foot off the gas. This team has the talent to walk away from DePaul; they win if they don't undermine that advantage with silly lapses.