Muskies Need Frease, Holloway at Best Against Baylor
10 Xavier (23-12) vs. 3 Baylor (29-7)
Sweet Sixteen - South Regional - Atlanta, GA
Friday, March 23 - 7:15 pm ET (est.)
On the backs of Kenny Frease and Tu Holloway, Xavier surged past the Lehigh Mountain Hawks 70-58 and into their 4th Sweet 16 in the past 5 years (one of only four teams to do so in that span). And they'll need that kind of offensive explosion and staunch defensive effort to knock off 3 seeded Baylor.
While Tu Holloway was busy bringing the team back from the dead (they trailed by 15 points), Frease continued the best basketball of his career with 25 points and 12 rebounds. Against the undersized Mountain Hawks, he was clearly the difference.
But again, Xavier wouldn't be here right if it were not for Holloway. He led Xavier's comeback, nailing 4 of his 8 three pointers, and scoring 21 points. His effort was a big part of the team shooting 44.4% from the field, and 46.7% from three. He and Mark Lyons also hounded star CJ McCollum, who dropped 30 points in the upset of Duke. The Muskies held him to 5 of 22 shooting, and 0 for 6 from three.
But with Mark Lyons struggling (7 points on 2 of 8 shooting), and Andre Walker limited after being hit in the head against Notre Dame, the Musketeers need others to step up. That need became even more pressing after star freshman Dezmine Wells sprained his big toe after just 8 minutes of play. The Muskies' bench responded. Dee Davis logged 29 minutes, and scored 6 points - but his defensive effort provided a huge lift. He was part of a trio of guards Xavier sent at McCollum, who looked far from his normal self. Throw in 4 points and 8 rebounds from Jeff Robinson, and a surprising 7 rebound effort from Justin Martin, and Xavier got just enough out of their bench to win.
And to beat Baylor, the Musketeers will need that team effort again.
Baylor is as legit a team as you will find in America, having started 17-0 before dropping a game to Kansas on the road. As impressive as their run has been, though, they were only 1-5 against the big two from the Big 12 - losing three times to Missouri and twice to Kansas. Nonetheless, this is a strong team that finds ways to win tough games against scrappy teams like Xavier.
The Bears have yet to really be tested thus far in the tournament, dispatching South Dakota State and Colorado with relative ease. But no one expects them to take Xavier lightly just because of that 10 seed. Holloway, Lyons, and Frease are exactly the trio that can hang with this talented team.
Baylor is a strong rebounding team - especially offensively - led by Perry Jones III (13.4 ppg, 7.7 rpg), Quincy Acy (11.5 ppg, 7.2 rpg), and Quincy Miller (11.0 ppg, 4.9 rpg). Kenny Frease, Andre Walker, and whatever combo Mack uses, will have difficult times handling them, but they need to help neutralize the boards and prevent all of those easy put back attempts.
Meanwhile, Mack will look to employ the same principles he did against McCollum against leading scorer Pierre Jackson (13.5 ppg, 5.8 apg). Holloway, Lyons, and Davis will likely take turns dogging him to keep him from taking off, particularly from three (41.9%). They'll also have to keep guard Brady Heslip (10.3 ppg) in check, as he shoots over 45% from three.
Throw in the fact that Baylor can run 6'9" and 6'10" players off the bench, and Xavier is going to have some troubles on the glass. The Muskies are going to need strong efforts from their bench to combat Baylor's extreme athleticism.
And that's where Xavier is at a bit of disadvantage in this game. They wanted to get out and run against Notre Dame and Lehigh - and they did it successfully. That will be difficult against Baylor, who can play that game all night if Xavier wants to.
The key will be to contain Baylor's incredible athleticism and three point shooting - which has burned Xavier several times this year (think UMass and St. Bonnies). If they can crack the 1-3-1 zone run by Scott Drew's Bears, they'll be fine. But that will involve getting hot from beyond the arc and staying patient.
You know Xavier's story by now, so there's no point in recapping it. Keys to a Musketeers' Victory:
- Rebounding. If Xavier gets hammered on the boards, they will lose this game by 20+ points. Kenny is drawing an extremely tough matchup against Jones, so it would be wise of Coach Mack to run several bodies at Jones in this game. That means Robinson and Martin are going to have to play big. The Muskies have had trouble recently blocking out and grabbing rebounds. That can't happen Friday night.
- Dez and Andre. Both of those guys have to be healthy enough to give 25+ productive minutes. Dez has the athleticism to match up with some of Baylor's guys, and they need him to get going early and often. Walker, meanwhile, can be effective for stretches on the defensive end, and his toughness is invaluable. They need him to be involved in the rotation with Taylor, Robinson, and Martin.
- Mark Lyons. Lyons has pretty much disappeared thus far in the NCAA tournament. If he does that again, Xavier is in trouble. I think Mark has the drive to have a huge game and really help this team, but he needs to stay out of foul trouble.
- The bench. The Muskies got a lot of strong, quality minutes out of their players against Lehigh. They'll need that and more on Friday. Davis, Redford, Taylor, Martin, and Robinson need to all be productive in order for Xavier to win. There can't be zeros across their lines like the Musketeers have seen so many times this year. Mack will most likely be using his bench early and often, so they can't come up empty.
- Tu Holloway. If Xavier is going to win, Holloway has to be at his best. This year, the bigger the game, the better Holloway has played. He'll need to be efficient on Friday, and really get after it on defense. This team goes as Tu goes, so don't be surprised if both get off to a slow start. A torrid beginning to the second half and a flurry of a finish wouldn't be a surprise. I expect him to play a tremendous game.
Xavier will more than likely fall behind early in this game, as they usually do. The key will be to not get blown out of the water. Baylor has the athleticism and skill to run them out of the building, so the Muskies are going to need a lot of heart and big shots to stay alive in this one. I'm predicting a strong second half from the Musketeers, led by Holloway and Lyons. And I wouldn't be surprised to see this one turn out like the game against Kansas State did in 2010. Baylor 70, Xavier 65