Team Personality: This season’s struggles of the University of Cincinnati have been plentiful and well-documented. But there is another team residing in Cincinnati that is having a rather successful season. Nonetheless, hardly anyone is talking about the Xavier Musketeers.
In his third year as head coach of Xavier, Sean Miller is enjoying his best season yet. He has led the Musketeers to 23 wins this season and a regular season Atlantic-10 title.
As the head man of a very experienced squad, Miller hopes his team’s regular season success will correlate into a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.
Impact newcomer: Xavier’s only real weakness last season was a true point guard. The arrival of Drew Lavender, a transfer from Oklahoma, erased a lot of those worries for coach Miller and his squad.
Although diminutive in stature (only 5’7”), Lavender brings a sense of toughness to the game that rubs off on all of his teammates. Although he struggled a little in his first couple of months at Xavier, the point guard has been phenomenal since the New Year.
Lavender’s play in February, a month in which Xavier went 7-0, was nothing short of spectacular. He poured in 16 points-a-game, connected on 20 three-point-attempts, and averaged nearly six assists. All the while he turned the ball over only six times the entire month. His almost flawless court control resulted in a staggering assist-to-turnover ratio of 6.67 to 1, a stat that truly defines a point guard’s success.
Has to be on the floor: Justin Doellman is the definitive senior leader for Xavier. He has the ability to score from the inside and outside, he rebounds, he distributes and he defends. The 6’9” forward does a little bit of everything for the Musketeers.
On offense Doellman can often be found in the middle of Xavier’s 1-3-1 set. He is extremely effective in the middle as he has the capability to kick it to open shooters on the wing, find teammates down low, or score the basketball himself either by knocking down a 12-footer or taking it to the rack.
With 128 games played in his career, Doellman is two games away from becoming the all-time leader in that category for Xavier; a clear-cut attribute to the four successful seasons he had for the Musketeers.
Straw that stirs the drink: In the past Stanley Burrell’s center of attention was to put the ball in the basket. Over the last couple of months his contributions have changed a little bit and a steady flow of victories has been a direct result.
Burrell still scores, as he is one of four Musketeers averaging double figures. However, he has recently assumed a new role where he focuses more on distributing the basketball and locking down the opponent’s best scorer.
The most athletic player on the team, Burrell’s newfound persona has really energized the Musketeers.
Crunch time Crutch: When the game is on the line, Xavier is sure to rely on their senior leadership. Experience is a rare commodity in an era where the most talented players rarely hang around for four years. The Musketeers start all upperclassmen with three seniors and two juniors, another uncommon commodity.
The Musketeer upperclassmen realize what it takes to win at this level.
Potential Pitfall: The Atlantic-10 is far from the most rigorous conference in America. While the A-10 usually is one of the better non-BCS conferences, the opposition presented to the Musketeers night-in and night-out is not of the same caliber that the majority of the teams in the Big Dance will have seen.
Xavier’s regular season A-10 crown is a sure accomplishment but they will be forced to crank it up a notch when the tournament lights shine. If they are unable to do so, it could be one-and-done for Sean Miller and his Musketeers.
How to reach the Sweet 16: Last season Xavier rode an A-10 Tourney title to the NCAA Tournament. The Musketeers faced Gonzaga and Adam Morrison in the first round and gave the Bulldogs a worthy challenge. Although they led at half, Xavier eventually fell to the favored ’Zags. With their conference tourney run and their battle against Gonzaga, the Musketeers gained confidence and built up some serious momentum for the 2006-07 season.
The Musketeers picked up right where they left off last season. Yet many across the country are unaware of the talent and experience that this Xavier basketball team brings to the court. With victories over Villanova, Kansas State and Illinois, the Musketeers are in good shape to receive an at-large bid just in case they are unable to defend their A-10 tourney title.
Once in the Dance, if the Musketeers continue to receive stellar contributions from the likes of Doellman, Lavender and Burrell, look for Xavier to build on last year’s experiences and be an extremely tough out in the NCAA Tournament.
This team has a viable chance to advance to the Sweet 16, especially if opponents sleep on them, as have many college basketball experts. The Musketeers must relish the opportunity to show the nation that they are for real. If they are able to advance to the second week of tournament play, rest assured that Xavier’s secret will be out.