Monday, February 01, 1999

Xavier: 'We're playing for our lives'




BY MICHAEL PERRY
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Xavier's record, schedule and standing within the Atlantic 10 Conference would suggest the Musketeers are headed for a third consecutive NCAA Tournament bid and a fourth in five years under Skip Prosser.

XU OUTLOOK
• Record: 15-6.
• Ranking: Not ranked.
• RPI: 52.
• League: 7-1, first A-10 West.
• Schedule

Feb. 4 at St. Joseph's
Feb. 6 at La Salle
Feb. 9 DUQUESNE
Feb. 14 TEMPLE
Feb. 16 LA SALLE
Feb. 20 at Massachusetts
Feb. 24 DAYTON
Feb. 27 at George Washington
Mar. 3-6 A-10 Tournament
• Toughest test: Feb. 14, Temple at the Cincinnati Gardens — a meeting of the teams predicted to win their divisions. Beating the Owls would be the highest quality win XU can capture the rest of the way and could establish them as the best in the A-10.
• Best-case scenario: XU has the A-10 West championship wrapped up before it goes to George Washington for its regular-season finale, owns a top seed in the tournament and at least gets to the title game.
• Worst-case scenario: XU needs to win at GW for the top seed in the West, loses, then needs a victory or two in the league tournament to ensure an NCAA bid.
• League tournament: The A-10 tournament is in Philadelphia. Last season, Xavier beat St. Bonaventure, Rhode Island and George Washington to win the tournament and the league's automatic NCAA berth.

        XU enters the final month of the regular season 15-6, and with eight games left before the league tournament, a 20-victory season is highly probable.

        Only two remaining opponents have winning records (Temple, 13-6, and George Washington, 13-5).

        After Saturday's 91-86 loss at Dayton, the Musketeers are 7-1 in league play, tied for first place in the A-10 West Division with George Washington.

        Temple, the A-10 East leader, is also 7-1 and along with the Musketeers and Colonials stand the best chance of representing the conference in the NCAA.

        However, in the wake of Saturday's defeat, Prosser said he does not believe Xavier is a shoo-in. XU and Temple, which both lost Saturday, were the lone unbeaten teams in A-10 competition. Both were knocking on the door of the top 25 but may have a hard time getting ranked now.

        Because the conference is down, there are no top 25 opponents left on the schedule. It's hard to break into the polls without quality victories.

        “I think we're playing for our lives,” Prosser said. “I think we've been playing for our lives since Puerto Rico (where Xavier lost two of three games in November).”

        Here is why Prosser isn't looking to March just yet: The Musketeers' next game is at St. Joseph's on Thursday night. The Hawks are 6-1 at home this season, and their 3,200-seat Alumni Memorial Fieldhouse is a tough place to play. XU has lost six straight there, dating to December 1963.

        “This team doesn't have a great margin for error,” Prosser said. “If we don't play well, we can get beat.

        “If we don't get better, we could lose three in a row, and our goal is not to let that happen.”

        That hasn't happened in three years.

        After Thursday night, XU's toughest remaining games are Temple at home, at Massachu setts and at GW.

        Here are a couple areas in which the Musketeers need to improve in February:

        • Getting the ball to hot-handed players;

        • Getting consistent contributions from players not named Posey, Brown or Lumpkin.

        Seniors Lenny Brown and James Posey each have scored in double figures 19 of 21 games, and Gary Lumpkin 12 of 21. Only once — against Purdue — did just one of those three score 10 or more.

        Where must help come from? The four first-year players (Obi Harris, Kevin Frey, Lloyd Price, Aaron Turner) and sophomore Maurice McAfee, who has been solid off the bench with seven double-figure scoring games, including six of the last 12.

        That's it. Xavier goes eight deep, and Prosser said the Musketeers can't be very good if the rookie players hit a wall.

        All of which makes it that much more important to get the ball to Posey and Brown when they are on a roll.

        Brown scored 11 points in the first half against Cincinnati, then added XU's first five of the second half. But he had only two baskets in the final 161/2 minutes — a transition dunk with 14:13 left and a three-pointer with 9:14 remaining. Some of that was UC's defense.

        Likewise, Posey had 21 points on 7-of-11 shooting and six rebounds in the first half at Dayton. But he did not have a field goal attempt until eight minutes into the second half and didn't score again until just 7:09 remained. He finished with 32.

        “That shouldn't happen,” Prosser said. “We have to do a better job of getting him the ball in those situations.”

       



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