GAME NOTES: The 15th-seeded Lehigh Mountain Hawks will try to pull off another upset as they take on the 10th-seeded Xavier Musketeers in the third round of the 2012 NCAA Tournament at the Greensboro Coliseum Complex.
Lehigh shocked the nation in its opening game as it upset the second-seeded Duke Blue Devils in a 75-70 final on Friday. The victory was the ninth in a row and first ever in the NCAA Tournament for the Mountain Hawks, who now own a 27-7 record on the year. The 27 wins is a new single season record for the team and tied the Patriot League's conference mark as well. Coach Brett Reed has to be confident in his team's ability to score as it led the Patriot with an average of 76.2 ppg and outscored its opponents by 10.9 ppg. The Mountain Hawks did a spectacular job against Duke's stellar backcourt of Seth Curry and Austin Rivers.
Xavier is coming off an exciting 67-63 comeback win over seventh-seeded Notre Dame on Friday. The Musketeers are now one win away from their sixth trip to the Sweet 16 in the past decade. Xavier is going to be a much tougher defensive test for Lehigh than Duke was on Friday. The Musketeers improved to 18-3 when holding opponents under 70 points with their victory over the Fighting Irish. Coach Chris Mack emphasized guarding the perimeter this season as his squad led the Atlantic 10 Conference in three-point field goal percentage defense (.310) and was second in overall field goal percentage defense (.401).
This bout marks just the second all-time meeting between Lehigh and Xavier on the hardwood. The Musketeers won the only previous encounter, 69-63, during the 2004-05 season at Cintas Center in Cincinnati.
This matchup will feature two of the best point guards in the nation. Lehigh's junior guard C.J. McCollum recently won his second Patriot League Player of the Year Award after averaging of 22.1 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.6 steals per game -- all of which lead the team. McCollum was fearless against Duke's heralded backcourt as he scored a game-high 30 points while also contributing six assists. Gabe Knutson has been an efficient second option this year, and he was a perfect 5-of-5 from the floor and made 6-of-7 at the charity stripe to net 17 points on Friday. Mackey McKnight and John Adams made a few big plays to help Lehigh to the improbable win.
McCollum's challenge is not going to get any easier, as he will now have to go against Xavier's standout backcourt duo of Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons. Holloway leads the Musketeers with averages of 17.3 points and 5.0 assists per game. The senior guard came up big versus Notre Dame on Friday with 25 points on 10-of-15 shooting. Lyons had a relatively quiet game with eight points and six assists, but he is certainly capable of scoring in bunches. Freshman forward Dezmine Wells made a great debut in the Big Dance by recording a double-double consisting of 14 points and 11 rebounds, while Kenny Frease chipped in with 10 points from his center position.
Xavier has surprisingly transformed from a slight underdog into an overwhelming favorite. Lehigh's coach Reed will need to get his team's emotions under control after its monumental win over Duke. The Mountain Hawks have the talent to move deeper into the tourney, but they will need their star point guard to continue to shine. The Musketeers are in the same boat, except they have a little bit more in terms of proven talent.