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Inside College Basketball
Posted: Monday December 14, 1998 12:39 PM
The Eagles Have Landed
Much-touted Xavier is showing some puzzling flaws
By Kelli Anderson
Xavier senior point guard Gary Lumpkin stood in a hall at The Crown in Cincinnati last Saturday night, his head bowed, his voice barely audible as he acknowledged his painful role in the No. 23 Musketeers' 71-57 loss to 14th-ranked Purdue: 1 for 7 from the floor, 0 for 5 from beyond the three-point arc, six points, 11 turnovers. "I take 90 percent of the blame for the loss," whispered Lumpkin. "I know I'm a good player. I just can't understand this."
Last season Lumpkin guided Xavier to a 22-8 record and the Atlantic 10 title. This season, through Sunday, his turnovers were up (3.1 per game, from 2.3 in '97-98), his assists down (4.0, from 4.5), and he had converted only 19.0% of his threes for the 5-3 Musketeers. Though Lumpkin is sharing a backcourt for a ninth year with Lenny Brown, a schoolmate since junior high in New Castle, Del., the starting job he has held since his sixth game as a freshman may be in jeopardy. "You'd think the one thing this team would have would be consistency in the backcourt, but that's not the case," says Musketeers coach Skip Prosser. "The thing is, he's working hard, and technically he's doing what he's supposed to be doing. It's baffling."
Though Lumpkin is the biggest X-factor at the moment for Xavier, a preseason Top 25 pick, he isn't the only one. The Musketeers' vaunted press has been impenetrable one moment and porous the next. Their eight newcomers, including highly touted freshmen Lloyd Price and Kevin Frey, have struggled to help senior forward James Posey fill the shoes of NBA second-round draft pick Torraye Braggs and last year's leading scorer, forward Darnell Williams, who was lost for the season when he tore his right ACL during the summer.
Xavier has also shown a curious lack of emotion. That shortcoming was so evident in the Musketeers' 94-76 loss to Pittsburgh in Puerto Rico last month that Prosser called a two-hour team meeting in his hotel room immediately afterward. "We watched a tape of the Pitt game and saw every time we dropped our heads or didn't hustle to the bench," says Posey. "Then we talked and got a lot of stuff off our chests. It cleared the air."
Before leaving the island, Xavier beat Colorado 74-61 but then lost again, to San Francisco, 82-69. As a result, a Dec. 2 game against previously undefeated Miami of Ohio had a certain do-or-die feel to it. When the Musketeers won 64-56, at Cincinnati Gardens, students swarmed the court. "This team really needed that," said Brown last Friday. "We were a Top 25 team, but we weren't walking around with confidence."
Well, Xavier isn't a Top 25 team anymore, having been dropped by the polls this week. But that tumble might be exactly what the Musketeers needs. "Two years ago we were trying to break into the Top 25, and every game we had something to prove," says Brown. "When it's about staying in the polls, we don't always attack the same way. Sometimes we walk out on the court like, We're Xavier, we're supposed to win. But right now, we're not that good."
Last Saturday at Valparaiso, 6'7" freshman guard Lubos Barton brought back fond memories for the Crusaders, nailing a three-pointer with 2.0 seconds left to defeat Missouri-Kansas City 66-63. Not only did his bomb conjure up images of the buzzer-beating 23-footer that lifted 13th-seeded Valpo past Mississippi in the first round of the NCAA tournament last March, but it also extended the comparisons between Barton and the launcher of that epic shot, Bryce Drew.
Barton, after all, has already proved to be a quicker draw than Drew, at least in practice. Using one ball and one rebounder and moving constantly along the three-point arc, Drew once made 100 treys in seven minutes and one second. Within two months of arriving at Valparaiso from Ceska Lipa, the Czech Republic, Barton had shattered that record by sinking 100 in 6:40. "I didn't think we'd ever see someone do it in under seven minutes," says coach Homer Drew, who designed the drill specifically for son Bryce, a guard who graduated last spring and was taken in the first round of the NBA draft by the Houston Rockets. "Good shooters can do it in 10 or 11 minutes; really good shooters in about eight minutes." What does that make Barton? "A coach's dream," says Homer.
Barton isn't just a quick three. He scored 27 points in his collegiate debut, a 67-61 upset of South Carolina, and through Sunday he was averaging 15.1 points and 5.9 rebounds while hitting 43.6% from beyond the arc for the 7-1 Crusaders. "What makes Lubos special is that he does so many things well," says Bryce, who has been working out at Valpo during the NBA lockout. "He shoots well, defends well, has great court vision, and he has arms that go on and on. And his teammates love him because he passes the ball."
The son of an elementary school headmaster, Barton values family, which is one reason he spurned Cal, Clemson and Virginia and signed with the Crusaders. (He was soon joined by his older brother, Jerry, who is now a team manager.) Aside from offering a good education and a safe, small-town setting in northern Indiana, Lubos says, Valparaiso is close to Chicago's large Czech population and O'Hare airport. "From here I can get on a plane home quickly," he says.
For now Barton is doing his part to help take the Crusaders, who have nine newcomers, back to the NCAAs. And if any last-second heroics should be required in the tournament? "I'm not promising anything," says Barton, "but I'll try to be ready for it."
-- Seth Davis
Issue date: December 14, 1998
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