Setting: Energy Solutions Arena in Salt Lake City is the site for the West Regional semi-final tilt between Chris Mack’s No. 6 seed Xavier Musketeers (26-8) and Frank Martin’s No. 2 seed Kansas State Wildcats (28-7).
Plot: Atlantic 10 clashes with the Big 12 for a spot in Saturday’s regional final.
Sub-plot: Revenge is in the air. K-State thumped Xavier, 71-56, back on Dec. 8.
Flashback: Xavier holds a 4-3 advantage in a series that dates back to 1961. Jacob Pullen dropped 16 and Curtis Kelly added 14 when the foes met at Fred Bramlage Coliseum earlier in the ledger. Tyrone Hill, Derek Strong, and Aaron Williams led the Muskies as they topped K-State 87-79 in the first round of the 1990 tournament.
Xavier has earned 21 NCAA Tournament berths, including last year’s Sweet 16 run and Elite Eight showings in 2008 and 2004. K-State punched their 24th dance ticket this year. With a victory over BYU, the Wildcats advanced to the Sweet 16 for the 17th time in school history.
Foreshadowing: Sixteen Musketeers have played in the Association , including current stars Derrick Brown, James Posey, and David West. Twenty-one Wildcats have earned paychecks in the NBA. Current stars include Michael Beasley, Cartier Martin, and Bill Walker.
Conflict: K-State’s 1,055 trips to the free-throw line ranks No. 1 in the nation. It’s no coincidence that their lightning-fast guards, Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente, lead the way with 447 and 485 free-throw attempts, respectively. Nobody on the rest of the roster comes within 200 attempts. Xavier averages nearly 19 fouls per game.
Against BYU, Pullen and Clemente combined to hit all 13 of their free throws. The tandem also hit 10 of 21 shots from behind the arc. The strategy is nothing new. The Wildcats want to stretch the floor and drive into open spaces. Xavier’s guards will need to keep Pullen and Clemente in check.
Usually, Dante Jackson draws the assignment of defending a player bigger than himself. Thursday, Jackson will need to keep up with Pullen and get a hand in his face.
Martin goes 10 deep on his bench. Eight Musketeers play 16 minutes or more with Andrew Taylor playing just under 10 minutes.
Jamar Samuels and Curtis Kelly do damage inside for the Wildcats. The two contribute 22 points and 11 rebounds.
Both teams hold a plus-five rebounding margin per game over their opponents.
Jordan Crawford leads the Muskies with 20 points, and adds almost five rebounds and three assists. The shooting guard leads the X-Men with 76 from behind the arc and hits 40 percent from long range. Crawford mixes his game well for a deadly combination. He can hit from 20 feet, or go off the dribble depending upon the situation.
Terrell Holloway has ignited the Xavier offense all season. The sophomore point guard maintains a two-to-one assist-to-turnover ratio. Holloway finishes 85 percent of his free throws.
Jason Love is nothing short of dominant in the paint. When on, the senior’s jump hook can be indefensible. Love scores 11.8 and grabs 8.5 boards per night.
Jamel McLean averages eight points and seven rebounds. The junior plays his best against the best. McLean has four double-doubles this season, including performances at Wake Forest and Charlotte. McLean has six double-digit rebounding nights and eight double-digit scoring games.
Dante Jackson rounds out the starting five for Xavier. The junior scores six and grabs three rebounds. Jackson draws the toughest defensive assignment.
Kenny Frease, Mark Lyons, and Brad Redford log valuable minutes off the bench.
Resolution: K-State got the better of Xavier earlier this season. That was then. This is now, and this game is on neutral court. The Wildcats out-rebounded Xavier 39-30 in the win. McLean played 17 minutes and Taylor logged four. That game came during a time when McLean needed to refocus. McLean grabbed 14 boards in the opening round win against Minnesota. Pittsburgh tried to neutralize the junior’s impact, but that cleared the way for Love, who scored 14 and grabbed eight boards in Sunday’s win. Taylor does not post the numbers, but his presence has paid dividends over the last month. Xavier’s guards will contain Pullen and Clemente. The Musketeers punch a ticket to the Elite Eight.