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Xavier and Dayton square off tonight in what may be the one of the most crucial games the two schools have played in their prolonged history. For the first time that I can remember, the stakes are equally high for both programs. This is an atypical occasion for Xavier, as they usually approach the A-10 playoff with grave indifference, confidently assured of their inclusion in the Big Dance prior to the conference playoff.

Not this year. A season that started with so much promise has ended with the Overlords on the precipice of failure. Not Daytonesque failure, mind you, but failure nonetheless as surely anything less than an NCAA bid is a letdown for X fans. The Muskies struggles this season have been document ad nauseam the past two months, certainly something not worth rehashing here. Big picture – this is a game that both Tu Holloway and Chris Mack need to win.

buscemiXhatFor Dayton, a win tonight can excise some bitter demons. The Flyers have the opportunity to abolish any postseason hopes Xavier fans may be holding onto. I don’t think I need to tell you how extraordinary an occurrence that is. UD is rarely in a position to completely capsize X’s voyage to the NCAA tournament. A win against the Overlords will be a vicious throat-slashing, one that won’t even up the rivalry number-wise but clearly puts momentum on the side of the Flyers entering next season (when Dayton will be the better team, good enough to solve the mystery in Cincinnati and sweep the season series).

Since the A-10 tournament is being held for the final time in Boardwalk Hall, a space usually reserved for Shriners, clowns and Tesla when mid-major basketball isn’t been played before a throng of hundreds, let’s make some cheap and forced Boardwalk Empire allusions. (Those of you who haven’t seen the show either through a lack of access or interest should cease reading now. The next two paragraphs will make as much sense to you as the last half of Inception.)

Xavier, of course, would be lead character Nucky Thompson – brash, shrewd, always in control. Thompson, like the Muskies, had trouble dealing with adversity this season. Nucky is an overachiever, a man who took his opportunity to stake his claim and ran with it. He has built a comfortable life and will do anything to protect it.

This clearly makes Dayton Jimmy Darmody, constantly living in Nucky’s imposing shadow. Thompson doesn’t take Jimmy very seriously at the outset, but begins to gain respect for him once he shows Nucky he can beat him at his own game. (Not to meander off course, but why did Jimmy have an early-90’s skater haircut during the 1920’s? Whenever he is on screen I almost expect him to be sporting a Vision Street Wear shirt and a wallet chain. Everyone else on the show looks like they could mix fit in seamlessly at one of  F. Scott Fitzgerald’s parties yet Jimmy looks like he just got done hot-boxing his Acura after catching some tasty waves. You can probably tell this bothered me immensely.) Darmody quickly comes to realize that he can only achieve his goals by knocking off Nucky.

* * * * * * *

A quick rundown of other Empire equivalents:

Chalky White: Kevin Dillard
Margaret Schroeder: Shannon Russell
Nelson Van Alden: Brian Gregory
Angela Darmody: Redheaded Cheerleader
Lucy Danziger: White Poison
Richard Harrow: Kevin Kuwik

* * * * * * *

darmodyUDhatLike Dayton and Xavier, Nucky and Jimmy could only operate in the same space for so long. Things eventually came to an inevitable head. Their fates forcibly intertwined, someone had to be eliminated.

Most college basketball rivalry games are just pomp and circumstance. Duke could lose three times to Carolina and still march to the NCAA title. Kentucky can get throttled by Indiana and Louisville yet still cut the nets down in April. The matchups are intense, that’s a given, but in the long run have little bearing on the direction of their respective seasons. This one is different. This is a rivalry game with actual meaning and immediate consequence. Loser goes home; winner gets the satisfaction of making the kill shot – with the possibility of achieving the goal both teams set out to accomplish in November.

Which leads us to this undeniable truth: Lost in all of this talk is the fact that even with a victory tonight, either school would still likely have some work to do in order to solidify an NCAA tournament bid (although that point is debatable, Xavier might be in simply with a victory over UD tonight. A slighter case could be made for the Flyers as well).

If Dayton won tonight and lost on Saturday to Saint Louis it would be like the 1980 US hockey team beating the Russians and then falling to Finland in the final. (What would Mike Eruzione have done for money the past thirty years?) The thrill of sending Xavier packing would be extinguished less than 24 hours later. A victory over the Overlords is essential, but Archie will need to get the squad up for Saint Louis if Dayton’s final foray to Atlantic City is to be judged a success.

Overview: This is a noteworthy contest between two Southwestern Ohio colleges. Tonight will be the third time the two schools face off in as many months. I am tired of playing X.

Meet and Greet: It’s the Xavier men’s basketball team. Tu Holloway, Mark Lyons, Kenny Frease. All those guys. Christi Mack’s husband is the coach.

The key is going to be in the middle. If Xavier can get production from Frease, he didn’t bother to show up in the previous two matchups, then the Muskies will win. Tu and Lyons can carry Xavier to victory, that goes without saying, but Frease really needs to up his play from here on out if the Overlords are to redeem their season.

So that’s the way I see it: the Kavanaugh/Frease matchup will dictate the game’s result. God help us all.

Prediction:

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Bruce Springsteen is a phony cocksucker. This version is better:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I0eZwpHtcK4?rel=0]