Wednesday evening, Xavier will play at Charlotte with a chance to advance to 5-0 in the Atlantic 10 Conference. On the road against a 49'ers team that has only lost one league game should be a tough challenge for the Musketeers, possibly their most difficult league game yet. In preparation for the matchup, Musketeer Scoop went one-on-one with the Charlotte team site for Rivals, Niner Report, to talk matchups.
Questions from Niner Report to Musketeer Scoop
1. It looked like the wheels were falling off of the bus with this Xavier team a few weeks ago after they lost their fourth straight game to Wake Forest. What have the Musketeers changed during their four game winning streak?
Xavier as a program feels like they own the Atlantic 10 Conference. I've been telling people that we've see two different teams this year, pre-A10 Xavier and A10 Xavier. One of the biggest problems early was that Xavier couldn't get any of their main guys to all play well on the same day, which was a problem considering the Musketeers have very limited depth. So far in conference play that has changed as senior Jeff Robinson has re-emerged, senior post Travis Taylor is playing his best basketball and the perimeter rotation of Semaj Christon, Dee Davis, Brad Redford and Justin Martin has been excellent in conference contests.
2. Semaj Christon is establishing himself as a top A10 player on a nightly basis. Where does he pose the biggest threat to the defense?
Christon's greatest asset at this point is his speed. One thing that no team wants to have to do is to try and stop Christon in the transition game, as he simply has another gear when attacking the rim. He's been prone to turnovers, but Christon is still a pass first guard at heart. However, this team is relying on him to score and he has shown some late game heroics as a slasher with the athleticism, and size, to finish at the rim. Right now, he's playing with a lot of confidence, and I agree that he's establishing himself as a potential A10 Player of the Year.
3. Brad Redford has always been known as a 3-point specialist. He's averaged 17 points over his last three games after averaging 5.4 points in the previous five. What's allowed him to put up more shots and be more efficient during this four game winning streak?
One of the big things was playing time, especially once Dee Davis went down for a few games with injury. Redford just got more minutes, leading to more shots. Another factor is that he had a major knee injury, so every day he is continuing to get healthier and healthier, as it wasn't just a one season recovery time table. Right now Redford is playing the way you want a fifth year senior to play in conference play, and he is probably the league's top three-point marksman. He's a little quicker with his healing near complete, so he can move off of screens or put the ball on the floor once to get more space to shoot, but more than anything he has one of the quickest releases in the conference.
4. To say that the Charlotte 49ers have struggled from the field would be a massive understatement. How do you think they'll approach Charlotte defensively?
This is a tough question to answer, because we're still not sure which lineup coach Chris Mack is going to favor now that Dee Davis is healthy again. Mack could go with the three guard combination of Davis, Christon and Redford and play small, which would almost force him to play a pressure style of defense to avoid being beaten up inside. Or, Mack could send one of those guys, presumably Redford, to the bench for extended minutes and go with a smaller lineup. Should he do that, expect to see Xavier concentrate more on protecting driving gaps and maybe lowering the overall pressure. One advantage that Xavier has in this game is that they've been struggling against really good shooting teams so far this year, with Charlotte not being as prolific of a scoring team the Musketeers have to feel good about their chances on the defensive end of the floor.
5. What will be the key matchup of this game?
I would have to say that the matchup that I'll be most intrigued to follow will be Charlotte's Chris Braswell against Xavier's Travis Taylor. In the limited action that I've seen this year from the 49ers, it seems to me that Braswell is Charlotte's top player, and Taylor has been at his best against top competition this season. Braswell is more skilled and stronger, but Taylor is more athletic. If Charlotte wins this matchup then I think they'll have a good chance to win, because of one of the league's most underrated home-court advantages.
Questions from Musketeer Scoop to Niner Report
1. Xavier is 4-0 in the conference, Charlotte is 3-1, and the game is being played at the home of the 49ers. Just how big is this game, and what type of environment can the Musketeers expect?
This is a huge game for the 49ers. They are coming off of a devastating 20 point loss on the road to the Richmond Spiders. They allowed Darien Brothers, who entered the game as the third best 3-point shooter in the nation, to score a career high of 39 points and they defended him poorly. Brothers and Michael Snaer of Florida State have lit up the 49ers for 30 point performances this season. The game has been deemed a "whiteout," so the Musketeers will see a sea of white. The crowd will be rowdy, especially since this will mark the last game between the two as members of the Atlantic 10. This is a huge game for the 49ers and if they have ANY NCAA post season dreams, they have to win this game.
2. Defensively, Charlotte has been a really good team this year, holding opponents to 63 points and 37% shooting. How has the team been able to accomplish this, and furthermore, how do you expect them to defend Xavier?
The 49ers have been able to accomplish this by being extremely physical with the opposition and limiting second chance opportunities. Unlike last year, the 49ers have depth in the interior which allows them to play more physical defense. Teams usually have to earn their points inside. They struggle against quicker guards like Brothers and Snaer. They'll play man-to-man because that is their identity. On offense, the 49ers will slow the pace down. They try to limit the possessions that the other team has throughout the game.
3. We talked about Semaj Christon earlier, is he the key to the game for Charlotte's defense? Do you look at him as being the best player on the floor? One thing about Christon is that he can be prone to frustration fouls, does Charlotte have the guard play to force him into bad decisions when Christon is on defense?
If I were Alan Major, I'd put Pierria Henry on Christon. Henry is an excellent defensive player and he should see a majority of time on Christon. I would bet the farm that Major focuses most of their defensive pressure at Christon since he has the ability to get everyone else involved. Henry has frustrated a majority of opponents all year and he'll force them into the aforementioned frustration fouls. Henry entered Tuesday evening eighth in the nation in steals per game with 2.78. No other guard on the 49ers has the defensive ability of Henry. When he's out of the game, they struggle.
4. Offensively, Charlotte hasn't been the most consistent team, but, Xavier has a tendency to allow teams to have great shooting nights. Something has to give in this one, which way do you see it going?
DeMario Mayfield is the 49ers best offensive option right now. He does most of his damage on drives to the basket and getting to the free throw line. He's shown the ability to knock down an occasional jump shot. The 49ers perimeter shooting has been putrid for the most part. Pierria Henry has been inconsistent with his shot but he has shown more confidence in taking more attempts of late. Freshman Denzel Ingram has struggled since league play begun. Terrence Williams has continued to start games even though he is shooting 32.4 percent from the field and 7.1 percent from the 3-point line. Based on what I've seen, I doubt that the 49ers can have a competent shooting night from the perimeter.
5. What will be the key matchup to this game?
The key matchup will be in the post. Chris Braswell has been in an offensive funk of late and he'll inexplicably take his game out to the 3-point line - where he's missed his last 12 attempts. The 49ers need big games out of freshmen Willie Clayton and Darion Clark. Clayton has been solid as a freshman. He's gotten in foul trouble lately and he has a tendency to rush bunnies under the hoop and he'll miss them. Clark has been inconsistent, especially on the road, but plays well at home. He's an awful free throw shooter. He shoots a Chris Dudley-esque 41.1 percent from the charity stripe. If the 49ers establish a post presence early, then they'll have a chance to win this game. If they don't, the Musketeers could win by double digits.
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