Xavier-Southern Cal Preview
The 23th-ranked Musketeers brace for a Trojans squad fresh off a win over another ranked team when the schools meet in Friday's semifinals in Orlando.
Xavier (5-0) had little trouble with Alabama Thursday, advancing 64-45 to win its first five games for the third straight season. The previous two haven't reached 6-0 - Xavier last did that as part of an 8-0 start in 2011-12 - and it could be a third straight season with such a setback if the Trojans (5-0) keep it up.
Southern Cal, off to its best start since going 8-0 in 2000-01, started the tournament with Thursday's 72-69 win over No. 20 Wichita State.
"We feel like that we have a very young, talented team, but need some more experience," USC coach Andy Enfield said. "We're certainly not a great team yet, we have a lot of things to work on, but this is a big win for us. It means a lot."
Bennie Boatwright is one of the players Enfield speaks of, and the freshman forward took some strides against Wichita State with his best game of the season, scoring 22 points on 7-of-13 shooting and 5 of 9 from 3-point range.
"Bennie had it rolling today," Enfield said.
Prior to that, it had been Jordan McLaughlin on a roll. The sophomore guard didn't exactly slow down with 15 points on 6 of 10 Thursday, but he's averaging 19.2 points and shooting 61.1 percent with an 11-of-21 mark from 3-point range for the season.
In all, the Trojans are averaging 88.4 points per game and hitting 42.0 percent of their shots from long range.
USC had lost its previous five against the Top 25 and it's 2-12 against ranked foes since last winning consecutive games against such opponents in 2010-11.
Xavier, meanwhile, has won its last seven against unranked opponents. It's also faced some relatively strong early season competition with wins at home over Miami (Ohio) and Missouri, at then-No. 24 Michigan and home versus Northern Kentucky prior to taking down the Crimson Tide.
Coach Chris Mack still isn't thrilled with the Musketeers' offensive effort. They're averaging 77.4 points on 40.6 percent, including 34.0 from long range.
"Hopefully as we settle in, we'll get better on offense," Mack said. "I thought we were much better in the second half than we were in the first."
While Trevon Bluiett led with 15 points, the rest of the starting five combined for 18 on 6 of 25. J.P. Macura came off the bench for 14 points in 21 minutes, and is averaging 11.4 in 21.4 minutes so far.
"I just needed to provide energy to the team," Macura said.
Mack, however, can't ask for a whole lot more on the other end. The Musketeers have held teams to 63.8 points per game while shooting 39.2 percent. Xavier outrebounded Alabama 47-31 to continue a trend that's resulted in a 44.2-29.4 advantage on the glass thus far, including a ridiculous 15.0-6.8 advantage on the offensive end. That could come into play against USC, which has allowed 16.4 offensive rebounds so far.
The all-time series is tied 1-1 with USC winning 84-78 on Nov. 30, 2013, in the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas.