Wednesday, March 08, 2000

Xavier has one last shot to make it in

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        PHILADELPHIA — Directions to the Big Dance:

        1) Study the strength of your schedule. The tougher your path, the simpler your selling job to the selection committee. Take care to avoid too many cupcakes unless you want to wind up watching the NCAA Tournament on television and/or looking like Rick Majerus.

        2) Rise to the occasion at least once. Beat a ranked team on the road, and it may not matter that your half-court offense is as stagnant as Bob Knight's wardrobe. Beat BobKnight on the road, and the sportswriters of America will wax purple about your zone press.

        3) Consider your conference. Weigh the advantages of an automatic bid against the benefits of regular blowouts. Add up how many of your rivals reach the field of 64, multiply by the average tenure of the league's head coaches, then subtract the number of conference schools on probation and/or employing Jerry Tarkanian. If your end result equals 15 or higher, stay put. If it exceeds 25, demand a bigger cut of your school's shoe contract.

        4) Examine your exposure. If Dick Vitale hasn't been on your campus at least twice since Groundhog Day, offer to buy 1,000 copies of his latest book. If Vitale knows the name of your point guard's pet snake, consider scaling back. A little bit of Dickie V. is entertaining. A lot of him is ear-splitting.

        5) When in doubt, win. (Self-explanatory).

        College basketball's most chaotic week is upon us, and everyone wants a sure-fire formula to ensure a stress-free Selection Sunday. You want to finish strong so that your ratings percentage index rises, so that you secure a good seed and an ambush-free draw. You do not want to watch the selection show the way Xavier did last March, filled with dread, doomed to disappointment.

Strange season
        “You'd like to win out and take it out of the committee's hands,” XU senior Darnell Williams said. “We've just got to go out and take care of business.”

        Xavier opens the Atlantic 10 Tournament tonight with a record of 19-10 and a pattern that suggests schizophrenia. No other team in the nation has experienced such extreme volatility — beating the mighty Cincinnati Bearcats, humiliated by humble LaSalle — and no other team is in greater need of finding a happy medium and fast. “We let some things slip away that we shouldn't have,” XU center Reggie Butler said. “Emotion and excitement — that's been the difference.”

        If the Muskies are to nail down an NCAA Tournament bid, they must attain enough emotion, excitement and equilibrium to win four games in four nights. Anything less leaves them at the mercy of the selection committee. To even merit consideration as a “bubble” team, the Muskies must win at least two tournament games, possibly three. Considering that they have not won more than three straight games since December, the outlook is ominous.

        “After we lost to Virginia Tech (Feb.19), I told the team we had to win the last four to have a shot,” Xavier coach Skip Prosser said. “After we lost to St.Bonaventure, it changed. ... We have an opportunity to face two of the teams that are fighting for a bid and have it determined on the floor and not the committee room.”

        Should the Muskies survive tonight's first-round game against 5-24 Rhode Island, they would face St.Bonaventure in the second round. The winner of that game probably would meet Dayton in the tournament semifinals. With Temple already assured of one of the Atlantic 10's NCAA bids, Dayton, St.Bonaventure and Xavier could be battling for one berth.

        “With three more wins, we'd have 22,” Williams said. “That's one more than we had last year. That might do it. Maybe two would do it. I don't know. I look at the rankings, but I don't know what they really mean.”

        The Muskies were 67th in the RPI rankings Tuesday, nowhere near the NCAA's comfort zone. Twenty-nine conferences carry automatic bids, and most of the at-large bids are already reserved. If the Muskies should make it, they will not quibble about where they are seeded.

        “Send me anywhere,” Williams said. “Just let me in.”

        E-mail Tim Sullivan at