A-10 semi-finals: Xavier defeats Bills 71-64

The+Billikens+look+for+their+26th+victory+today+as+they+face+Xavier+in+the+A-10+semi-finals.+Photo+by%3A+Ryan+Doan+%2F+Staff+Photographer
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A-10 semi-finals: Xavier defeats Bills 71-64

The Billikens look for their 26th victory today as they face Xavier in the A-10 semi-finals. Photo by: Ryan Doan / Staff Photographer

The Billikens look for their 26th victory today as they face Xavier in the A-10 semi-finals. Photo by: Ryan Doan / Staff Photographer

The Billikens look for their 26th victory today as they face Xavier in the A-10 semi-finals. Photo by: Ryan Doan / Staff Photographer

The Billikens look for their 26th victory today as they face Xavier in the A-10 semi-finals. Photo by: Ryan Doan / Staff Photographer

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SLU vs. Xavier

After beating La Salle in the first round tonight, 78-71, the Billikens advance to the semi-finals of the Atlantic 10 Men’s Basketball Tournament to take on the Xavier Musketeers Saturday. Xavier holds the 3-seed in the A-10 tournament and beat 6-seed Dayton this evening, 70-69. The game will be televised on CBS Sports Network at 2:30 p.m central time.

The Billikens look for their 26th victory today as they face Xavier in the A-10 semi-finals. Photo by: Ryan Doan / Staff Photographer

Regular Season:

These teams met twice in the regular season, with SLU winning both matchups. The first meeting came in January at Xavier, as the Bills pulled out a 73-68 win. In late February, the teams met at Chaifetz Arena in a game that ended 70-59.

Why SLU will win

Two regular season wins have shown that the Billikens have the talent and ability to beat a strong Xavier squad. In both cases, it was largely a defensive win – SLU went on spurts in both games of holding the Musketeers to less than 5 points in eight minutes or longer. And both wins came thanks to big nights for Brian Conklin. In the first match, he was the only big man in double digits when he notched 19. In the second, his 14 second-half points were the spark SLU needed to get back in the game and eventually run away with it. If Conklin has another game like that, SLU is a tough team to beat.

Why Xavier will win

Well, first of all, it’s tough to beat the same team three times. Especially when that team is as talented as Xavier. They know the Bills all too well and have probably figured out how to stop Conklin – at least in principle – right now. Secondly, Xavier is playing for their tournament lives. Without a win tonight, Xavier is most likely headed to the NIT. That, plus the revenge factor, means that Xavier could be the team that “wants it more” (they certainly have more to lose). And finally, with the guard play of Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons, this is a scary team. All it takes is one of them to get hot to change a game. If both do, they could have a long March.

Key Factor: Controlling Kenny Frease

A big part of both SLU wins in the regular season was controlling Xavier’s big man, Kenny Frease. In the first game, Rob Loe did it offensively by forcing Frease out of the paint. Loe hit three 3-pointers in the first half of that game because Majerus knows Frease can’t keep up with him on the perimeter. In the second matchup, when Loe’s shots weren’t falling, Conklin took him inside. With a few buckets and a few forced fouls, Conklin made Frease irrelevant in the second half, and he only logged 18 minutes. If they get to Frease again, it will be tough for Xavier to establish an inside game.

Key Matchup: Mitchell/McCall/Jett vs. Holloway/Lyons

Plain and simple, this is a perimeter game. And judging by the way Loe and Conklin handled Frease in the first two games, Xavier’s best chance to win is with strong guard play. The duo of Holloway and Lyons is quick on both offense and defense, and they can run with the best of them at the point. The important thing here is not to expect a huge night from Mitchell, McCall or Jett, but to hope that all three of them can together defend against Holloway and Lyons. If either of those two players registers more than 20 points, SLU will have to make up for it in the paint.

What it means

For SLU, a win means we’re 99.9 percent sure it’s time to dance on Grand Avenue. With Temple out of the A-10 tourney already, the Billikens would be just one win away from taking the crown in the nation’s best mid-major conference. We’re still talking anywhere from a 7-seed to an 11-seed in the Big Dance, but win number 26 would be huge for this program. For Xavier, it’s a must-win. A loss puts them squarely in the NIT.