Friday, February 12, 1999

Temple looms as huge XU test

Musketeers need quality win Sunday

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Xavier faces perhaps its biggest game of the season Sunday against Temple (1:41 p.m. tipoff, ABC).


        Let us count the ways:

        • The Owls have the highest Ratings Percentage Index ranking of any team left on Xavier's schedule (No.24). The only other remaining opponent in the top 100: George Washington (No.50). Xavier is in need of what are considered quality victories and have only these two opportunities.

        • A victory should erase any doubts of Xavier making the NCAA Tournament, despite caution from the team. Coach Skip Prosser would not say the Musketeers are in the tourney should they beat Temple, but did allow: “I think it would greatly enhance our chances.”

        • If you believe the Musketeers are already a lock for the NCAA, a victory Sunday could help their seeding.

        • The game is nationally televised. Poll voters may be watching. NCAA selection committee members may be watching. Dick Vitale is on the broadcast team, and he could talk up the Musketeers the following week or two if he comes away impressed.

        “It's an opportunity to show people who have never seen you play how you play,” Prosser said. “I think that's important.”

        “It doesn't get much bigger than this,” XU senior Lenny Brown said.

        Temple is playing the best ball in the Atlantic 10. The Owls are 16-7 overall, 10-1 in the conference. Their only conference loss — and only defeat in 1999 — was at St. Bonaventure Jan. 30. Temple leads the East Division by three games over Rhode Island and Massachusetts (both 7-4).

        The Musketeers have the most overall victories (17-7) and best winning percentage (.708) among league teams and lead George Washington

        in the West by a half game. They are 4-3 against teams with RPIs in the top 100. XU's worst losses were to San Francisco (195) and La Salle (164).

        Xavier is unbeaten at home this season and hasn't lost at the Cincinnati Gardens since last Feb. 8 (to UMass 73-62).

        “I am of the opinion that they're both in and they have to play themselves out,” ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said of Xavier and Temple. “The overall average play in the league has brought the league's RPI down, but that doesn't mean the teams at the top aren't quality teams.

        “I think Xavier's still OK if they lose (Sunday), but they have to play well.”

        Said Vitale: “I think Xavier, Temple, and possibly George Washington will get bids from the Atlantic 10 unless a disaster falls in. Obviously a win here certainly helps big time because Temple has a good RPI and they're playing outstanding basketball. Those experienced (Xavier) players will have to step up.”

        Both teams can expect first-round byes for the A-10 tournament barring a total collapse in the final two weeks of the regular season.

        There are only four A-10 teams with winning records. George Washington (14-6, 8-2) has a good chance at the NCAA Tournament. Rhode Island (14-10, 7-4) needs to finish strong. There are no other con tenders unless a darkhorse wins the A-10 tourney.

        Xavier is No.71 in the RPI. No team rated worse than 69 has received an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament since the 64-team field was introduced in 1985.

        There is another reason Sunday's game is crucial.

        “The team that wins will most likely have the most confidence going into the home stretch,” XU senior Gary Lumpkin said.

        “You've just about done every drill,” Prosser said. “You've gone over every situation. So much of it now is mental as opposed to physical.”


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