Editor's Early Preview (12/15):
Win or lose, this is a big moment for Xavier as the program makes its regular season debut on network television. So far, the Musketeers have stepped up to every challenge, but a neutral court Meadowlands meeting with Duke is their hardest test yet. Regardless of what the rankings say, Duke will no doubt be the favorite and they're my early pick here.
Preview & Prediction: By Raphielle Johnson
The #6 Duke Blue Devils (9-1) make another appearance in an arena that some consider a “home away from home,” the Meadowlands. But the challenger will be an equally talented #7 Xavier (9-0) team coming off of a victory over bitter rival Cincinnati in the “Crosstown Shootout” last Saturday. Duke encountered far less resistance in their last win, a 99-56 beating of UNC Asheville on Wednesday night. In a game that features two teams that can light it up from behind the arc, it should be no surprise that in their one loss this season (at Michigan) Duke was 7-33 from distance while the Wolverines were a far more economical 7-16. In fact, Duke is shooting just 32.0% on the season from distance. But with four players averaging at least ten points per game, led by All-America candidate Kyle Singler, head coach Mike Krzyzewski has a number of guys that can put the ball in the basket.
But who’s going to help this team hold their own on the backboards against a tough Musketeer frontcourt? Well, in the words of Lee Corso: “Not so fast, my friends.” Despite their lack of size, the Blue Devils own a rebound margin of +10.0, good for twelfth nationally. Singler leads the way with just under eight boards per game, but after him are four players ranging from 3.8 to 4.5 caroms per contest to help out. And this is one of the deeper teams in recent years in Durham, with nine players playing at least fourteen minutes per game. This game will also provide another test for point guard Nolan Smith, who has played well for the most part early on.
As for Sean Miller’s point guard, Dante Jackson played quite well for most of their win at Cincinnati, a game in which the Bearcats identified him from the start as the guy to go after. But for the season Xavier has a turnover margin of -2.0, and their close calls have usually featured struggles when it comes to taking care of the basketball. (The return of freshman PG Terrell Holloway to full strength should help). Forward Derrick Brown, who just a couple years ago was a guy whose offensive repertoire consisted of little more than a dazzling array of dunks, leads the Musketeers in scoring with fourteen per game. Senior wings C.J. Anderson and B.J. Raymond are also averaging double figures so far, but predictably this team isn’t as good on offense as they were last season (losing Drew Lavender, Stanley Burrell and Josh Duncan will do that to a team).
Defense has also been a positive for the Muskies this season, with Xavier limiting opponents to 35.7% shooting from the field. They’re also stingy behind the arc, with opponents shooting just 31.3% from distance, and they’ll need to live up to that if they’re to knock off the Blue Devils. This game will be the biggest test for the Musketeer guards, especially Jackson, when it comes to pressure both on the ball and in the passing lanes this season. They’ll have to withstand an early run in friendly confines from Duke in order to do so, but they should be in this one throughout. But looking that that turnover margin, and the fact that Duke has guy who can really make you pay on the other end for such transgressions, makes this a game in which it’s hard to pick Xavier.
Winner: Duke Margin: 5-9 pts.
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About Raphielle Johnson
College sports has always been a source of excitement for Raphielle Johnson, be it through watching, writing, or taking a shot in the dark and walking onto a college football team just to live the life (Arizona Football, 2001). Raphielle is the assistant editor, providing his own work in addition to helping out with the site operations. When not writing for CHN, you can usually find him in front of a television set watching one of many pay-per-view sports packages that he owns. He can be followed at twitter.com/raphiellej.
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