By Brian McInnis
Tonight's two games to cap off the first day of the Diamond Head Classic are unquestionably the more interesting matchups on tap at the Stan Sheriff Center.
No. 14 Xavier and Long Beach State has the potential to be great, even with the Musketeers missing their No. 2 scorer, Mark Lyons, as a result of the suspensions handed down after XU's brawl with Cincinnati.
The matchup of Xavier guard Tu Holloway (returning from a one-game suspension) and the 49ers' Casper Ware (top 10 in LBSU career records in just about every stat imaginable) should be highly entertaining. Will the Musketeers have enough firepower (missing their second- and third-leading scorers) to make it to the semis? LBSU, with the toughest nonconference schedule in the country and a win at No. 9 Pitt, certainly won't be intimidated.
And it will be interesting to see how UH responds to a team with superior athleticism, after struggling at times in wins over UC Davis, Hawaii-Hilo and North Carolina A&T.
UH will need Zane Johnson and Shaquille Stokes to shoot a higher percentage than the 32 percent they've averaged on the season.
Vander Joaquim will need to pick up where he left off with WAC player of the week honors after the interisland road trip, and Joston Thomas must match the Tigers' athleticism and quickness with some of his own.
UH's team defensive scheme will be tested against AU's balanced philosophy. All five Tigers starters average double-figure scoring.
If you can't make it to the games, try to catch Kanoa Leahey's call of both contests on ESPNU. He's once again been assigned several of the games in the tournament, including both of tonight's. His broadcasts on the Worldwide Leader's networks were great in the last two years of the DHC, and this time he has the advantage of being Hawaii's regular play-by-play man.
In the morning matchups:
>> UTEP (5-5) locked up Clemson (6-5) for nearly the final 13 minutes of the game in a 61-48 victory.
>> Kansas State (8-1) ran past Southern Illinois (3-6) behind a deep bench and allowed only 29.5 percent shooting by the Salukis.
UTEP and K-State meet in the first semifinal tomorrow at noon.