Xavier Musketeers (27-6) vs. Georgia Bulldogs (17-16)
When: Thursday, 12:25 p.m.
Where: Washington, D.C.
1. Coaches Corner. Xavier has done an excellent job over the past 20+ years finding capable coaches that continue to advance the program to higher levels. From Pete Gillen to the late great Skip Prosser to Thad Matta to Sean Miller, each coach has brought his own style to Xavier and has been able to find success. Now in his third season, Sean Miller has lead Xavier to its best regular season in school history. You would think by now that people would know Sean Miller because of his coaching resume, but still many people know him because of his appearance on David Letterman as a kid to show off his dribbling skills or perhaps because he knows how to teach offensive improvement. Most likely though, you know him because he was a key component in the most famous dunk in college basketball history.
2. Balancing Act. The Xavier Musketeers are this season's Atlantic 10 regular season champions and have done so with a balanced attack on the offensive end. For most of the season, Xavier has had six guys averaging double digit points per game lead by seniors Josh Duncan (11.7 ppg) and Drew Lavender (10.8 ppg). BJ Raymond (10.7 ppg), CJ Anderson (10.7 ppg) and Derrick Brown (10.6 ppg) have also been steady contributors for the Muskies. Stanley "Hammer" Burrell has arguably been Xavier's MVP this season despite averaging a career low in ppg (9.9 ppg). Hammer has become one of the top perimeter defenders in the country as evidenced by his ability to contain the likes of Eric Gordon (4-12 FG), Chris Lofton (3-12 FG), Sean Singletary (5-12 FG), Jimmy Baron (0-7 FG), and Dayton's Brian Roberts (held to 6-19 FG in two games combined). Phil Martelli, for one, won't be sad to see Burrell go based on his comments after the first Xavier/St. Joes game... "Is there anybody here from the Xavier administration? Do you know when graduation is? That goddamn Burrell, every year, every goddam game makes a shot against us. He was averaging 7.5 points coming into the game in seven league games - or eight games. Doesn't look like the same player, playing great defense. Dagger. I want to be here to make sure that sonofabitch gets out of here to be honest with you."
3. The Power of X. While this year's team is inspiring the hopes and dreams of Xavier fans everywhere, The Power of X is more than one team, one player or one coach. The statistic the majority Xavier fans will tell you they are most proud of is not the 14 All-Americans in school history or making the NCAA tournament 16 of the last 21 years, it is the fact that the Xavier program has graduated 70 straight seniors which dates back into the 1980's. Josh Duncan, Drew Lavender and Stanley Burrell will make that 73 straight this May and they will be certainly be missed, but the future is bright at X. Next year, Xavier welcomes Top 150 recruits Kenny Frease (#55) and Brian Walsh (#142) as well as uber-athletic PG Mark "Cheeks" Lyons, but Brad Redford may be the recruit that has inspired the most discussion and excitement amongst Xavier fans. Redford is one of the leading candidates for Mr. Basketball in Michigan while averaging just under 40 ppg at Frankenmuth High School. Redford set a Michigan state record this season by hitting 102 consecutive FT's and shot over 46% from behind the arc while displaying some ridiculous range. — Brian Leibforth
1. Seriously, They Actually Did That. We'll be talking about what Georgia did during the SEC tournament for years, but dammit, we need to acknowledge again, just so that the fickle hand of Internet history records that we recognized. The Bulldogs won four games during the SEC regular season (they also lost
on the road to East Tennessee State) ... and then, in the midst of a tornado and TWO GAMES IN THE SAME DAY, they won four during the tourney to clinch a bid. They weren't even particularly hot coming into the tourney; they'd lost five of six and 10 of 12 going into Atlanta.
2. Doin' It For The Coach. As you'd probably expect when your team loses 10 of 12 to finish the season, Georgia fans weren't exactly doing backflips over keeping coach Dennis Felton around. Brought in to clean the program up after Jim Harrick did what Jim Harrick does, Felton was wearing on fans' patience with no tourney appearances in five years. And then this happened. Needless to say, you have to like his odds to return next year.
3. Where Did This Come From? Even more impressive about this run? Georgia lost two of its best players from last year, Takais Brown and Mike Mercer, and the team now has only eight scholarship players. They very well might have been the least likely team on earth to have pulled off two wins in one day, and four in four. Our favorite player, just edging doofy tall white guy Dave Bliss (who is far clunkier than a man with the name "Bliss" should be), is leader Sundiata Gaines, whose first name means "African warrior." We'll be honest: With the Illini finally petering out in the Big Ten final, we're cheering for Georgia to win this whole thing. If they play all six games in one day, they have to be the favorite. — Will Leitch
(And sorry we had the dismissal thing wrong; obviously we wrote this very quickly after they made it yesterday and missed that detail. We apologize.)