Thursday, March 19, 2009

Reporting From Xavier's Practice

Just moments ago head coach Sean Miller and the Xavier Musketeers flooded onto the court here in Boise. Only minutes into the Musketeers 40-minute shootaround, it is clear Portland State will have its hands full when the teams face off in tomorrow's opening round matchup.

Throughout the practice I will note observations about the Musketeers.

-Raymond might be a problem

Senior wingman B.J. Raymond is likely to give whichever Viking matches up with him fits. At 6-6, 226 pounds, Raymond is thick and muscular in a way that would describe only a few Vikings. On top of that, the All-Atlantic-10 First Team player shoots an impressive 42 percent from the three-point line, making him that much more dangerous.

Portland State forward Phil Nelson possesses comparable height, however, the primary difference is that the 6-foot-7 Keizer, Ore., native's frame is much leaner than Raymond's. If head coach Ken Bone opts to assign Nelson the tough task of guarding Raymond, then Portland State's best hope is that Nelson's long arms will help alter some of the his three-point attempts. When it comes to covering Raymond inside the arc, Nelson will likely need some help from the weak side, which will probably come from Jamie Jones or Julius Thomas from the paint.

-The comfort factor

It goes without saying that Xavier's recent tradition of participating in the March Madness festivities, appearing in the NCAA Tournament eight of the last nine years, gives the Musketeers a decisive advantage over a Portland State program making its second ever trip to the Big Dance.

With all of that experience playing on a stage that only the NCAA Tournament can create, Xavier is frankly more familiar with the pressures of competing in important games in March. The Musketeers have been exposed to the media attention, hectic travel schedule and hassle of quickly preparing for a team located on the other side of the country. And it certainly shows.

The Musketeers appear loose, laughing with one another and taking things in stride before the coaches broke up the party by demanding pristine execution during all the drills. While it is difficult to precisely articulate, it's evident through their body language -- and the fact that they spent the final five minutes of practice shooting half-court shots -- that Xavier's players and coaches are unfazed by the scene of the NCAA Tournament.

It will be interesting to see whether Portland State looks nearly as comfortable during its practice this evening.


The Musketeers have some solid shooters, their guards look fairly quick and they possesses size down low, but the most alarming reality for those close to Portland State is Xavier's sheer strength. Nearly every player on the roster has the appearance of a part-time trainer, especially a few of the wingmen--such as the aforementioned Raymond, C.J. Anderson and Derrick Brown--who should prove to be difficult assignments for their Viking counterparts.
Earlier this season Portland State dropped a couple respectable losses to teams comparable to Xavier in the strength category in Washington and Baylor. In both of those games the Vikings had trouble stymieing their bigger, more powerful opponents in the paint, leaving golden opportunities for the Huskies and Bears to capitalize.

If Portland State hopes to stop history from repeating itself Friday evening, then the Vikings must employ an up-tempo, energized attack that allows them to beat the Musketeers with their legs rather than being beat by Xavier's superior arms. This is how the Vikings neutralized Boise State's big men back in February, with ballhawking defense that turned into easy fastbreaks and a quick-but-accurate-trigger on the offensive end.

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