Xavier Looks to Take Another Major Step Among the Nation's Elite
March 26, 2009
By Adam Kiefaber
BOSTON - When it comes to the NCAA Tournament, every member of the media is obsessed with the novelty story idea.
They tend to use words like "Cinderella," "script" and "mid-major": all story leads that, ironically, are not that new at all.
When the ball is tipped at approximately 7:27 p.m. Thursday night, the "script" will describe a coach that has to take on his powerful alma mater.
However, the real story will be between two teams, Xavier and Pittsburgh, as they battle to advance to the Elite Eight. Labels don't mean anything Thursday night.
"College basketball is not college football," Sean Miller told the media in Boston on Wednesday. "When you look at Memphis last year, in the National Championship game, I don't think anybody really cared what conference they were from, they just looked out there and saw an excellent team."
"To me, it is so much more about your program and the name on the front of your jersey and what you stand for than whether you are in this conference or that conference."
That name, "Xavier," is gunning for its second straight trip to the Elite Eight, something Pittsburgh hasn't done since 1974.
Then again, this is the first time ever that Pitt has earned a No. 1 seed in the tournament. The Panthers also feature three (DeJuan Blair, Sam Young and Levance Fields) of college basketball's most recognizable athletes who are all taking part in their second straight Sweet 16 appearance.
"This team is really tough. It starts from the first day of practice. Our practices are very intense, very tough. Guys leave bleeding most of the time just from drills we run. And it gets you ready for the games," Fields said.
That toughness has earned the Panthers the reputation of being an offensive rebounding team, totaling 477 (14.9 per game) during the regular season.
Xavier, on the other hand, considers itself a tough team as well that excels in defensive rebounding. During the regular season games, the Musketeers pulled down 877 defensive rebounds (27.4 per game).
Overall, both teams' rebounding statistics were strikingly similar. In 32 regular season games, Xavier totaled 1,366 rebounds, while Pittsburgh finished with 1,365.
"They're the best offensive rebounding team in the country, actually. And defensive rebounding is something that we do well, really well, also," Xavier junior Derrick Brown said. "So it's going to be a battle of who can do that better. But it's never going to be easy, especially in this game and at this magnitude. But we're up for the challenge."
Leading the Musketeers in this challenge is senior C.J. Anderson, who has been Xavier's vocal leader all season long.
With the pressure of it possibly being his last game in a Xavier uniform, Anderson will not allow his team to lose due to a lack of toughness.
"He's (Anderson) the heart and soul of what we do," Miller said. "Tomorrow's game from a toughness standpoint, there will be nobody playing the game who's tougher than him. If you think about it, he's played two seasons at Xavier. He went to the Elite Eight last year and here he is back at his senior year. I think that says it all about him."
Another player that will not let his teammates take a play off will be senior B.J. Raymond, who seems to have a knack of hitting big shots in the NCAA Tournament.
"We (B.J. and I) share a special relationship just because there has been a lengthy period of time that we have been together and he has been very loyal to me, I have been very hard on him and I think it has been a good mix for a coach, a university, a program and a player," Miller said.
In the last two seasons, Raymond and Anderson have helped Xavier win 57 of its 71 regular season and postseason games. Their leadership has propelled the Musketeers to conference championships, NCAA Tournament runs and elite national status.
"(The) Atlantic 10 is a great conference," B.J. Raymond said. "All we focus on is trying to win our conference. It wouldn't matter if we were in the Big East, Big Ten, Big Sky, we focus on winning our conference. We feel we're an elite level program, and that's what we try to focus on."
A win on Thursday would give Xavier another Elite Eight run, its third in six years.