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Most UD, XU players getting first taste of rivalry

Dayton returned only four players who suited up for the team last season, which means the majority of the roster hasn’t been exposed to the passion and intensity of a Xavier game.

But that doesn’t necessarily put the Flyers at a disadvantage. The Musketeers went through such an offseason overhaul that competing in the rivalry we’ll be a new experience for most of their players, too.

Xavier has five new starters after losing Kenny Frease, Tu Holloway and Andre Walker to graduation, encouraging Mark Lyons to find a new locale despite still having a year of eligibility and expelling Dez Wells from school after an alleged sexual assault (no charges were filed).

With no returning player who averaged more than 4.5 points last season, fourth-year coach Chris Mack has had his patience tested. The Musketeers, who have reached the Sweet 16 twice under Mack, haven’t met their usual standards while going 11-8 overall and 4-2 in the Atlantic 10.

“It’s been a little bit up and down. And I think the inconsistencies you can point to are because we have a lot of guys in different roles. We also have a very, very young backcourt,” Mack said.

“It’s been trying at times and it’s been rewarding at times.”

Both Mack and UD coach Archie Miller downplayed the importance of having veteran players to be able to withstand the pressure of the rivalry.

“Whether you’re a freshman or senior, I’ve been in some rivalry games where some freshmen are naïve and some are oblivious to it,” Miller said. “That’s the beauty of college basketball. Sometimes those guys are surprising, and sometimes your seniors aren’t ready for it.

“But I know this: (Xavier) will be ready. I know our guys will be ready. It’s going to be a very difficult challenge for us.”

Mack is more concerned that his players follow the game plan rather than work themselves into a frenzy for the Flyers.

“All the different variables outside the game — players’ first experiences, the history, all that stuff — that really doesn’t go into a coach’s line of thinking,” he said. “The only thing we worry about is what Dayton runs and how they play and being able to battle their personnel.

“They’re a tremendous rebounding team. Arch does a really good job on the offensive end of spacing the floor. Whenever you have a player like (point guard Kevin) Dillard, who is able to draw so much attention and has a gift of finding open players … it’s a challenge. We recognize that, and we’ll have to be at our best on Wednesday to get the win.”

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