Xavier's balance overwhelming recent opponents Print
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Friday, 04 January 2008 23:25
NCAAB Headline News


 CINCINNATI (AP) -One of Xavier's mascots is a short, fuzzy critter known as the ``Blue Blob.'' In the past week, it's been leading cheers for a team that looks more like a blue-and-white blur.
There's been no stopping the Musketeers.
For the first time in nearly 12 years, the Musketeers have topped 100 points in consecutive games. And they've done it against two teams that never imagined they could be beaten so badly.
Kansas State and Virginia came to town with some momentum and a determination to show they could stand up to Xavier's balanced lineup. Didn't take long for either to realize they couldn't even slow the Musketeers, let alone stay with them.
A 108-70 victory over Virginia on Thursday night brought Xavier (11-3) more accolades from an opposing coach who saw something special.
``We didn't defend one, never mind five guys,'' Virginia coach Dave Leitao said. ``The difficulty is when you have a guy like (point guard) Drew Lavender who is so willing to get everyone involved, it puts a lot of pressure on your defense.''
After a two-game downturn, Xavier has regained its balance.
On New Year's Eve, the Musketeers rolled out to a 30-7 lead over Kansas State, setting up a 103-77 win. They did the same thing against the Cavaliers, pulling ahead 38-12 while putting up a stunning 61 points in the first half.
``It just starts with our seniors and our older guys making sure everybody's ready,'' said senior guard Stanley Burrell, who led Xavier with 15 points against Virginia. ``We came out of the gates ready. The last game against Kansas State, we were ready.''
He wasn't exaggerating. Everybody was ready.
The most impressive statistic from those two 100-point wins: Seven players finished in double figures in each game. Lavender had 21 points against Kansas State; otherwise, no one has scored more than 15.
It's a coach's dream. With so many players willing to share the ball, the Musketeers are tough to defend.
``We're a team right now that has a lot of different parts to it,'' coach Sean Miller said. ``When you have that depth and you're unselfish, it really allows you to be consistent.
``Our depth is the one thing that really stands out.''
Every coach wants a deep roster, but few have so many players committed to getting each other involved. Six players are averaging double figures: Lavender (12.6), C.J. Anderson (11.7), Derrick Brown (11.6), B.J. Raymond (11.2), Burrell (11.1) and Josh Duncan (10.1).
``That's part of our identity this year,'' said Burrell, who has fewer points and more assists than in previous seasons. ``Balanced scoring is part of our identity.''
It's more than that. With Atlantic 10 play ready to begin, Xavier is among the conference's best defensive and rebounding teams as well.
The Musketeers were ranked as high as No. 17 before they had one bad game and a few bad minutes in another. They beat rival Cincinnati 64-59 on Dec. 12 in a physical game that left them sapped and cost them Duncan, a senior forward who sprained his left knee.
Three days later, they went to Arizona State and got drubbed 77-55, struggling to make shots against its zone defense. A week later, they led No. 12 Tennessee with less than 4 minutes to play, but had four late turnovers that helped the Volunteers pull it out.
They seem to have learned from those losses.
``I think they went through that stretch where they lost a couple of games, and they found themselves,'' Leitao said. ``They've had back-to-back games over 100 points, which hasn't happened for them in a while. So they feel real good about themselves right now.''
When Virginia went to a zone in the first half, Xavier patiently worked the ball around and got open shots. The Musketeers tied a school record by making 16 from behind the arc.
``We scored a couple of times and got them out of it,'' Lavender said. ``We've worked on that ever since the Arizona State game, about how when teams play zone we've still got to score and play hard.''
Since the loss to Tennessee, Xavier has run off three impressive wins, starting with a 65-33 victory over Delaware State. Miller thinks it's not a coincidence that his team is growing.
``I've seen it happen a lot,'' Miller said. ``Young players have now played a whole semester. Generally, if it's going to happen, it happens around this time where they just become more comfortable.''
Lavender and Burrell have a lot to do with it. Lavender leads the A-10 in assists-to-turnover ratio. Burrell, a shooting guard who sometimes plays the point, is second in the conference.
``They've become a terrific backcourt together,'' Miller said. ``They complement each other well. The days of Stan throwing the ball all over the gym are over. He really takes care of the ball. So you have a senior backcourt leading the way.''
 

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