After a washout in Richmond, the Charlotte 49ers (15-3, 3-1) return home to face the Xavier Musketeers (11-6, 4-0) in a whiteout at Halton Arena on Wednesday night at 7:30p.m.
Since they lost four in a row and five of six, the Musketeers have rebounded to win their first four Atlantic 10 games. They are tied atop the conference with VCU for first place after the quarter point of the league schedule.
A big part of the Musketeers success in recent weeks can be attributed to four-time Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Week Semaj Christon. He's won the award the last two weeks.
Christon leads the Musketeers in scoring (14.7), assists (5.1) and steals (1.5).
"I think, in my opinion, [he's] the best freshman in our conference," said Musketeers Head Coach Chris Mack. "The great thing about Semaj is he continues to get better everyday because of his coachability [and] his attitude. I think he's done a really good job of in the time Dee was away of running our team and being very assertive on the offensive end. He's got an amazing ceiling."
Besides Christon, senior Brad Redford has stepped up his play of late. He's scored in double figures in three consecutive games, a feat he had never attained until now. Redford has shot 57.7 percent from the 3-point line in that span.
Alan Major is well aware of the weapons that the Musketeers possess.
"Typical Xavier team from the defensive standpoint," Major said. "They're not quite as offensively talented as they've been. They're more of a lunch pail crew, they are a very good defensive team, similar to us in some ways. They've got an extreme red alert shooter in Brad Redford and then Semaj Christon. They've got some unique pieces and obviously Chris Mack has coached them very very well."
Although the 49ers don't start football until August, Mack dropped a gridiron reference when he spoke about Major's squad.
"I see a very very physical team," Mack said. "A team that Alan's done a great job this year with sort of putting his stamp on the program. They're a team that posts you, drives you, rebounds the ball at a very high level on both ends of the floor. They play extremely physical on the defensive end. It's a big challenge. We're going to have to put our football helmets and shoulder pads on as we head to Charlotte."
For the 49ers, junior DeMario Mayfield has been the team's most reliable offensive threat. He has scored in double figures in six straight games. He is second on the team in scoring with 11.3 points per game, just behind senior Chris Braswell.
Although Braswell leads the team in scoring with 11.5 points per game, he's only scored in double figures once in league play, a feat he reached on Saturday against Richmond with 10 points. He's averaged only 8.3 points per game in conference play.
1. The 49ers are 9-0 at Halton Arena this season. They have never went undefeated at Halton for the duration of a season.
2. Perhaps this stat will raise your eyebrows. On the season, the 49ers have had more assists than turnovers in four of their 18 games. The last time they had more assists than turnovers in a game was against Central Michigan on Dec 8. In that contest they dished out 23 assists and only turned it over nine times. Since then, the 49ers have had more turnovers than assists in nine straight games.
2a. In four Atlantic 10 games, the 49ers have 37 assists and 63 turnovers.
2b. In four Atlantic 10 games, the 49ers have only assisted on 37 of 92 made field goals. However, they are 73-for-106 at the free throw line.
2c. In four Atlantic 10 games, Pierria Henry has six assists and 15 turnovers. He has only had one multiple assist game, which was at Rhode Island where he logged three.
2d. Staying on the category of assists. Willie Clayton has five assists for the entire season. Clayton hasn't logged an assist since the Radford game.
2e. Darion Clark has nine assists and 27 turnovers on the year. Clark, like Clayton, hasn't logged an assist since the Radford game.
2f. In four Atlantic 10 games, Chris Braswell has five assists and 13 turnovers.
3. The 49ers have scored 26 fast break points in four Atlantic 10 games. They scored nine fast break points in their first two league games. They have scored 17 in their last two.
KEYS TO THE GAME
1. Contain Christon: Christon is the cog that makes the Musketeers move. In their four game winning streak, he's averaged 18.5 points and six assists per game. He's 30-for-53 (56.6 percent) from the field and only four of those attempts have been from beyond the arc. In addition to his high percentage from the field, he's 13-for-20 from the free throw line. They must contain him.
2. Contain Redford: Major referred to him as "an extreme red alert shooter" for good reason. He has shot 57.7 percent from the 3-point line in his last three games. He's a dangerous shooter. They'll have to do a better job of defending him as opposed to Brothers and Snaer.
3. Establish a paint presence: Perhaps this is redundant. It's redundant because it's common sense. In his last two games, Clayton is 2-for-10 from the field. He's scored five points and grabbed eight rebounds while turning it over three times. Clark scored one point against Richmond. Braswell scored 10 against Richmond, but he must do a better job of establishing himself in the post. If he can - decides - to do that, then it could open up the perimeter for the 49ers.
Tim's Closing Thought
There is an interesting aspect to observe each time a game tips off. For the 49ers, how are they going to respond after the getting taken to the woodshed on Saturday at Richmond?
This is a big-time game and Major needs his big-time players to step up. Mayfield has done a great job of coming off of the bench. Braswell needs to play up to his potential for the 49ers to win this game.
Major also must do his part in helping the 49ers win. For whatever reason, he continues to start the second half with the same lineup that started the game. He has to have his best lineup on the court at all times. He must adjust to the flow of the game. He failed to do that against Florida State and Richmond most notably. If Terrence Williams struggles again, he cannot justify starting him in the second half. He has to play the hot hand.
Major has talked about his team learning from their mistakes on film, he must do the same when it comes to his lineups. This is not to say he's done a bad job, because he definitely hasn't.
Despite the loss at Richmond, the 49ers are 3-1 after four games. If they replicate that the rest of the way, that equals a 12-4 record, and most likely a top four finish in league play.
For that to happen the 49ers must not only learn from their mistakes, but execute properly. This is game No. 19. At some point, they're going to have to take that next step.