December 30, 2007

Wildcats to get big test from Xavier

Kansas State will take its final shot at securing a victory over a formidable non-conference opponent on New Year's Eve in Cincinnati's U.S Bank Arena, where the Wildcats are slated to take on Xavier. The Musketeers handed K-State a 76-66 loss a year ago, but armed with one of the nation's truly elite players in freshman Michael Beasley, K-State coach Frank Martin's team has every reason to believe this year's contest will yield a more satisfying result.

"Xavier is a quality basketball team," Martin said of the Wildcats' next opponent. "I'm pretty sure they are an NCAA (Tournament) basketball team, but we have to approach this as a game that we need to win, just like every other game on our schedule."

Xavier (9-3) has been ranked as high as 17th nationally this season, and the Musketeers boast wins over both Creighton and rival Cincinnati. So while it would be easy for Martin's team, which is also 9-3 on the year, to glance ahead at the rapidly approaching Big 12 schedule, the Wildcats' focus must remain steady if they hope to avenge last year's loss and continue the process of building a strong NCAA Tournament resume.

"We need to win this game to have it on our resume to get into the tournament," said freshman guard Bill Walker of the implications of K-State's New Year's Eve game.

If K-State is to maintain the momentum built by its current four-game winning streak, the first order business will be finding a way to combat a balanced Xavier scoring attack. Through 12 games, five Musketeer players are averaging double-digit point totals, and defending a team with such evenly spread production will present the Wildcats with some rather unique challenges on defense.

Senior Musketeer guard Drew Lavender, whose scoring average of 11.8 scoring includes a 28-point game in a victory over Creighton, leads coach Sean Miller's team on the stat sheet, while his backcourt mate, Stanley Burrell, is also capable of putting points on the board with his nearly 11 points-per-game average. But while the Musketeers' guard play will certainly be an area of concern for K-State Monday, Xavier's big men present some challenges of their own.

"They have a very athletic and long front line," Martin said of the Musketeers' big men.

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