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Xaview Musketeers -- Are They For Real?

   by Matt Fargo - 03/05/2008

Xavier is an appropriate team to focus on this week as its final test of the season takes place on Thursday night at St. Joseph’s. The Musketeers conclude their season on Saturday at home against Richmond. Xavier, 25-4 overall, has won 11 straight games and 17 of its last 18 to basically run away with the regular season Atlantic Ten title. The Musketeers broke the school record for most regular season wins and now they are gunning for the overall record of 28 wins set by the 1989-90 Sweet 16 team.

Most teams with 25 wins prior to the end of the regular season are not even discussed as being a possible fraud team but unfortunately, the Musketeers are part of that group. This is not due to the fact of having any significant weaknesses but more so of the fact it really has not been tested a great deal. The non-conference schedule was nice but certainly not overwhelming. A victory over Kansas St. was the biggest win while losses to Miami Ohio and Arizona St. are unsettling. A loss to Tennessee was expected.

Some other non-conference wins included SE Missouri St., Coppin St., Oakland, Belmont and Delaware St. Again, not very impressive. Add to that playing in a weak Atlantic Ten Conference and what you have is a record that might be skewed based on a relatively soft schedule. Still, Xavier is eighth in the AP Poll, its highest ranking since being ranked a school-record 7th early in the 1997-98 season. Collegerpi.com has the Musketeers listed at 6th which is extremely surprising based on the schedule rank.

The Musketeers are a solid 9-3 in road games and this includes six straight wins in the Atlantic Ten. The problem is that there has been a lack on domination as the last four wins have come by an average of only 3.5 ppg. Making that even worse is the fact that all four of those wins came against teams with a .500 conference record or worse. Xavier has dominated at home this season, which it does basically every year, but there will be no home postseason games so stepping up on the road is a must.

As far as the bad, that is about it. You cannot fault Xavier for playing in a weak conference and it has won the games it needed to. There are a lot of positives on this team and come tournament time, those aspects will need to come out if it plans to make a historic run. Xavier leads the Atlantic Ten Conference in scoring margin (seventh in the nation at +14.1 ppg.), rebounding margin (26th in the nation at +5.7), field goal percentage defense (30th in the nation at 40.1 percent) and A/TO ratio at 1.20.

The Musketeers are 2nd in the conference and 18th in the nation in free throw shooting at 75 percent, 2nd in the conference and 16th in the nation in three-point shooting at 39.7 percent, 2nd in the conference and 38th in the nation in scoring defense at 62.0 ppg and 2nd in the conference in three-point shooting defense at 33.3 percent. All of these statistics show what a powerful team this really is no matter who it has played. One of these stats needs to be touched on further and that is free throw shooting.

There probably is not a bigger factor come tournament time than free throw shooting. With so many tight games, making free throws is vital and Xavier possesses this trait. The Musketeers have an amazing four players that are shooting over 80 percent for the season. Josh Duncan is hitting 86.2 percent, B.J. Raymond is hitting 86.2 percent, Drew Lavender is hitting 85.3 percent and Stanley Burrell is hitting 83.5 percent. Words cannot describe how important this is and they are going to have an edge in nearly every game.

The Musketeers rely heavily on balance and Xavier is one of only three teams in the country to have five players that average double figures in scoring with Duke and Clemson being the other two. This type of balance can be a nightmare for defenses and the Musketeers have five players ranging from 10.6 ppg to 11.7 ppg. Xavier is 18-0 when four or more players score in double figures and the reason is fairly obvious since the points can come from basically anywhere on the floor.

This is a very veteran team with three seniors and two juniors comprising five of the seven players that average double-digits in minutes. They have been here before and they know what to expect. There is also going to be a chip on their shoulder following the debacle from last season. The Musketeers led Ohio St. by nine points with less than three minutes left but the Buckeyes rallied and tied the game with a three-pointer with two seconds left that sent the game into overtime and an eventually Ohio St. win.

Another good thing going for Xavier has been it plays up or down to the competition. The Musketeers are 0-6 ATS against teams with a losing record but 11-5 ATS against winning teams and they are going to face nothing but over .500 teams come postseason time. The Musketeers have been overpriced for the majority of the season and they are 1-5 ATS when favored by more than 17 points but they won’t be laying those numbers in the Big Dance. Soft schedule or not, this is going to be an extremely dangerous team.

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