Xavier Tries to Avoid Another Holiday Letdown
Dec. 23, 2008
By Adam Kiefaber
CINCINNATI - One year ago this month, Xavier was ranked No. 17 in the Associated Press Top 25 Poll until it was crushed in a 77-55 loss to Arizona State. The loss was significant enough to knock the Musketeers out of the AP's Top 25. After traveling back from Tempe, Ariz., Xavier lost 82-75 to then-ranked No. 12 Tennessee in the last game before Christmas.
"We ran into a buzzsaw that day (against Arizona State). We certainly were not at our best and we had to put that behind us and we had Tennessee at home," Xavier head coach Sean Miller said. "It was the last game before Christmas and, if you remember the Tennessee game, it took us about eight minutes to really get going."
In 2006, in Xavier's last game before Christmas, Bucknell visited Cintas Center and came out with 67-66 win, ruining the Musketeers holiday. This year, Xavier's biggest Christmas wish is to beat a good Butler team on Dec. 23.
"We lost a very difficult game to Bucknell around this time of year and I made the next two weeks probably as miserable as they can be... if we lose the game to Butler it will be the most miserable 10 days that any Xavier player could experience," Miller said. "They won't want to come back."
Just like how Xavier came out flat against Tennessee after being blown out by Arizona State, Miller is concerned that his team could do the same thing against Butler after being blasted 82-64 by now-ranked No. 5 Duke this past Saturday.
"My biggest concern is that Duke stole some of our confidence and we have to make sure that when the opening tip comes against Butler we will have learned our lessons and be really revved up and ready to win this game because they are a very good team," Miller said.
Butler currently has a record of 9-1 and is No. 4 in the latest RPI ratings. The Bulldogs feature three players that average double figures in scoring. The leading scorer, freshman Shelvin Mack, who played his high school basketball in nearby Lexington, Ky., for Bryan Station High School, is very familiar to Miller.
"We recruited him for a while and wished we would have stayed with it because he is really a good player," Miller said.
Through 10 games this season, Mack is leading Butler in points (13 per game), minutes played (29.8) and assists (3.7).
Fellow freshman Gordon Hayward has also been providing a huge impact in his first season as a Bulldog. Currently, he is averaging 12.6 points and 5.3 rebounds per game. In Butler's only loss this season, Hayward connected on seven three-pointers en route to a 25-point effort in the 54-51 loss to Ohio State.
Butler's other top scorer is sophomore forward Matt Howard, who is averaging 12.8 points and 6.9 rebounds per game, after averaging 12.6 and 5.3 last season.
"Their younger players are playing at a high level right now. Matt Howard is someone we are real familiar with and I respect him as much as any forward in the country. He is reckless with how he plays, very intelligent and tough," Miller said.
The younger players have stepped up this season after the graduation of Mike Green, A.J. Graves and Pete Campbell. Those graduated seniors led Butler to 30 wins and a No. 7 seed in the NCAA Tournament last year.
Miller believes that this year's Bulldogs team can be just as successful, but for now he hopes his Musketeers can win its 10th of the year and its last game before Christmas.
"I think Butler can win 30 games this year, I really do, I think they can make the tournament and advance. To me they are as talented as any team that has entered our building in some time," Miller said.
Ironically the last time Xavier lost in Cintas Center was on Dec. 22, 2007 against Tennessee. Since that game, they have won 15 straight at home.
Xavier will try to make it 16 straight at home when the two teams tip it off tonight at 7 p.m. The game will be televised on ESPNU.