By Dustin Dow
The Cincinnati Enquirer
This one has all the makings of an ugly, defensive-minded game - which could be exactly what the winner needs to get its season going.
Xavier University and Miami University, both struggling offensively and both carting two-game losing streaks, meet at 7 p.m. today in Miami's Millett Hall, each in search of some consistency and a way to avoid a devastating third straight setback.
Winning is really all that matters in this situation, when a loss could raise legitimate questions about a team's NCAA Tournament credentials.
Xavier hasn't lost three straight games since closing the 2000-01 season with three losses, two of which were postseason games. The Musketeers lost four straight regular-season games in January 2000, then played in the National Invitation Tournament.
The last time Xavier lost three consecutive non-conference games was December 1991.
Miami lost four straight games on two separate occasions last year and failed to make the postseason.
"Hopefully (a win) would give us a little confidence back," said Xavier coach Thad Matta. "We need to play well. This is not going to be an easy game at all. We can't play like we played the last two games and expect to come out of there with a win."
Xavier players have had 10 days since losing to Indiana in overtime to prepare for Miami, and the players are ready to get back on the floor and end the losing skid.
"Right now we're kind of down coming off the losses," said point guard Dedrick Finn. "We want to win so bad and go out there and get a 'W' no matter if it's ugly or pretty. If we win, and it's ugly, at least we got the 'W.' We can work on the ugliness in practice."
Miami (2-2) is in the same situation, looking for a win after getting blown out 61-38 by Western Michigan on Saturday just three days after a six-point loss at Dayton.
"We just don't play well at times, and it's painful," said RedHawks coach Charlie Coles. "We've got to take some responsibility when we play. A victory would be a great thing, but we need to get playing well and get some consistency."
Both teams are shooting below 40 percent from the field - Xavier 39.5 and Miami 38.3 - and both commit turnovers about as often as they record assists.
Xavier is scoring 70.0 points per game, Miami 59.2, but the Musketeers gave up an average of 77.5 points in their last two games.
"Transition defense is very important," Matta said. "Not giving easy baskets. We've been giving up way too many easy baskets."
Xavier has won the last three games in the series, including a 29-point win at Millett two years ago. But Miami has won three of the last four at home against Xavier.
Coles said it helps to be playing a rival at a time like this, as the RedHawks prepare for the Mid-American Conference season.
"I like our potential more than anything," Coles said. "Right now, we're not good for more than 15 minutes at a time. Really, our team is better than our record."
Xavier will be without sophomore Angelo Smith, who suffered a subtle dislocation of his right shoulder during practice over the weekend. He may return against Mississippi State Dec. 13, but more likely will not be available until Dec. 20 against Louisiana-Lafayette.
Xavier vs. Miami
Tipoff: 7 p.m. today, Millett Hall.
Records: Xavier (3-2), Miami (2-2).
Radio: WLW-AM (700), WCKY-AM (1360), WMOH-AM (1450).
TV: Ch. 64.
Series: Xavier leads 46-44.
Line: Xavier by 2 1/2.
Coach: Thad Matta (55-14, 3rd year; 79-22 overall).
Coach: Charlie Coles (122-95, 8th year; 214-179 overall).
|Eric Van Buskirk||Fr.||6-8||1.5|
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