west_zoomYou all know the narrative by now. To mention it is as necessary as it is depressing when discussing the Dayton Flyers’ annual trip to (and subsequent loss at the hands of) Xavier University. But rather than dwell on who was president, how many years it’s been, or who was and was not born, how about a story that best illustrates what this particular game has come to mean to me?

The year was 2003. I was a freshman at the U of D, as naive as the dry leaves on the ground. I’d become a UD hoops fan not even a year prior, shortly after choosing to attend the school. The thought process was something along the lines of: “OK I’m going to this college. They got sports and shit?”

The Flyers jumped out to a 16-3 record, 8-0 in the conference, and I was hooked. You remember that UD team – Waleskowski, Finn, Ramod, Brooks Hall. Nate Green and DJ Stelly off the bench. So I scored tickets to the game at Cintas and made the trip down I-75. I knew next to nothing about Dayton’s historic struggles in the city of Cincinnati and even less about a so-called “Carter Curse.” On this particular afternoon, the Flyers ran out to a 16-6 lead and were up as many as 15 halfway through the first half. But something happened. More accurately, David West happened. 47 points, 18 rebounds and one demoralized 19-year-old later, Xavier had defeated UD in Cincinnati once again.

Did David West steal my innocence that day? That seems a little over-dramatic, but I will say this. I’ve returned to the Cintas Center a half dozen or so times for the annual UD letdown against the Overlords and never since I have expected the Flyers to pull out a victory. Sure, I can talk myself into having some hope and put on a brave face, but I’ve never truly believed. Sometimes you can go from knowing nothing about a game to knowing everything there is to know in a little more than two hours.

mackvmack

Overview

Well that story seems depressing as shit, but I have good news Flyer fans! This year’s version of the Musketeers is not very good. In fact, they kinda suck. Head coach Chris Mack has faced the first signs of adversity in his tenure as XU enters Wednesday night’s tilt with a modest 11-8 record, including a two-game losing streak at the hands of Charlotte and St. Joseph’s.

The Overlords have certainly had their moments this season. Home wins over Temple and La Salle are solid, and a 15-point (non-conference?) beatdown of Butler comes to mind as the high point of XU’s season. But 2012-’13 has been a year for stumbles usually uncharacteristic to this program. The Muskies, typically invincible at home, suffered a second half collapse in a loss to Vanderbilt and were upended by the mighty Wofford Terriers at the Cintas Center. They also sport a less then healthy 4-6 record in road/neutral games this season. But Xavier seemed to right the ship by reeling off four straight wins to start A10 play prior to the aforementioned two-game skid.

XU’s strength lies in its defense. The Musketeers allow opponents to shoot just 40.5% from the field and a paltry 30.1% from beyond the arc. Xavier gives up 60.7 ppg, good for second best in the conference. According to its web site, Xavier has graduated each of the last 88 men’s basketball players that have played as seniors. I mention this only because it seems like a very UD-fan-base-like thing to brag about, up to and including the strange “played as seniors” caveat.

christon

Meet and Greet

When your best player plays for Arizona and your second best player suits up in a Maryland uniform, you’re bound to struggle a little bit.

Freshman guard Semaj Christon is asked to do a little bit of everything for the Musketeers. Christon leads the team in scoring (14.9), assists (4.7), and steals (1.5) per game. He’s also the only guy on the floor who can create his own offense with any regularity, so expect him to carry the load. Oh, and this is potentially the first of at least eight times the Flyers will have to face Christon over the next four years. I, for one, can’t wait.

Brad Redford has been the other backcourt starter as of late. Redford is on the floor to do one thing and one thing only: shoot the 3. Of his 113 shot attempts this year, 94 have been 3-pointers. But when given space, Redford can be deadly, hitting from behind the line at nearly a 45% clip. Dee Davis recently missed a pair of games with a wrist injury and, since his return, has come off the bench. Davis averages 8.6 points and 3.8 assists per contest.

In the frontcourt XU is led by Travis Taylor. Taylor goes for 11.5 points and 8.0 rebounds per game, the latter good enough for fourth in the A10. Justin Martin and Jeff Robinson typically round what is a three-forward line-up for the Musketeers. Martin averages 8.2 a game in spite of a Devin Oliver-like 28.6% from 3-point range. Robinson’s game is limited to what he get in the lane and on stick backs and garbage buckets, but he’s good for a fairly consistent seven and five per night. Isaiah Philmore is the first frontcourt player called upon when Mack needs to go to his bench. The Muskies would prefer only to go seven deep, but transfer Erik Stenger will get some minutes if the situation calls for it.

Numbers Game

“It may be conceded to the mathematicians that four is twice two. But two is not twice one; two is two thousand times one.”

FireShot Screen Capture #187 - 'Dayton Flyers vs Xavier Musketeers - January 30, 2013 - College Basketball - StatSheet_com' - statsheet_com_mcb_games_2013_01_30_2013-01-30_dayton_vs_xavie

Prediction

After the David West game, someone said to me, “We had the better team, but they had West.” I couldn’t argue then nor would I now. And as the years passed and the road losses piled up, I’ve often heard (and even said) that familiar refrain. “We had the better team, but they had Sato … or Derrick Brown … or Crawford … or Holloway. The list goes on. But this season feels different in that regard. Xavier doesn’t have that guy. THE guy. Christon looks the part and will almost certainly be that guy in due time, but I don’t think he’s there yet. If there were ever a year to get Xavier in Cincy, this would appear to be that year.

As for a prediction, let’s see what the experts think:

I really want this to be the year. I mean I can almost taste it: XU is vulnerable, plus think of all the “What do Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama have in common?” jokes that Blackburn could make if it does go down?  But I just can’t bring myself to predict a UD win in Cincinnati. Kevin Dillard brings it in big games and he goes for 16 and 8, but it isn’t quite enough. Let’s call it Xavier 69 – Dayton 63.

DDXU