Xavier is coming off a hard-fought win over a crosstown rival. The Musketeers can expect another emotional game this weekend.
Xavier coach Sean Miller meets his mentor Herb Sendek on Saturday when the 17th-ranked Musketeers visit Arizona State.
Miller was an assistant under Sendek for two seasons at Miami of Ohio (1993-95) and five seasons at North Carolina State (1996-2001) before joining the staff at Xavier.
Miller and Sendek met as head coaches for the first time when Xavier hosted Arizona State last Dec. 16. The Musketeers had fallen out of the Top 25 with consecutive losses, but closed the game on a 17-5 run to post a 76-58 win. No other team scored more points against the Sun Devils last season.
The Musketeers (8-1) enter this season’s matchup on a higher note. They’ve won seven straight to earn their highest AP ranking since closing the 2002-03 season at No. 12. Their current run includes an 80-65 win over then-No. 8 Indiana on Nov. 24.
“I think Xavier right now is playing as well as anyone in the country,” said Sendek, whose Sun Devils are 6-2. “You look at their scores, and they’re not only beating good people, but they are plastering good people.”
On Wednesday, Xavier held off rival Cincinnati for a 64-59 victory in a wild game that featured two technical fouls and an injured starter from each team needing help getting off the court. After Xavier’s Josh Duncan left the game with a left knee injury in the second half, Derrick Brown scored 11 points in the final seven minutes en route to a career-high 17.
“I had to change my way of thinking,” the sophomore forward said.
Duncan was pushed from behind and landed hard while battling for a rebound. His status for Saturday is uncertain, though Miller doesn’t think his senior forward will be out longterm.
“The initial diagnosis is favorable,” Miller said.
Duncan is one of six Xavier players that averages double figures in Miller’s balanced offense. Xavier has never had six players score at least 10.0 points per game for an entire season, and hasn’t had all five starters average double digits since 1994-95.
This is only the Musketeers’ second true road game of the season. Their first was their only loss - 59-57 at Miami of Ohio on Nov. 13.
Meanwhile, the Sun Devils are 4-0 at home, where they beat Coppin State 60-43 last Saturday. Junior forward Jeff Pendergraph led Arizona State with 13 points and added seven rebounds, but wasn’t impressed with the team’s defense, which ranked third in the Pac-10 last season.
“It seems like sometimes we teeter-totter on what we might have been taught before and what we’re being taught now. It’s like we get confused sometimes, and that’s when teams capitalize and get easy buckets,” Pendergraph said.
“We’ve just got to totally buy into what Coach Sendek is trying to tell us, and get back to that defense that we had last year.”
Xavier is the highest-ranked non-conference opponent to visit Arizona State since Dec. 20, 1980, when the Sun Devils upset then-No. 7 Ohio State 71-58. The Musketeers are also the first ranked non-conference opponent to visit Tempe since then-No. 18 UTEP beat Arizona State 60-55 on Dec. 18, 1993.