Monday, March 01, 1999

ATLANTIC 10 TOURNAMENT PREVIEW


Xavier has toughest road to title

BY MICHAEL PERRY
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Xavier lost its Atlantic 10 West Division crown Saturday. Now the Musketeers (20-9) get to defend their conference tournament championship.

        The A-10 tourney begins Wednesday in Philadelphia, but the guests of honor won't play until Thursday.

BRACKET
        XU, the No.2 seed in the West, plays the winner of Massachusetts (13-15) and Duquesne (5-22) at 2:30 p.m. Thursday at the First Union Spectrum.

        Since the Dukes have managed just one league victory this season, the Musketeers are likely looking at a rematch of their double-overtime defeat to the Minutemen in Amherst, Mass., on Feb. 20.

        “We're the defending champion,” XU senior James Posey said. “We've got to go out with that attitude. We could do it again this year, too.”

        George Washington is the top seed in the West and Rhode Island the No. 2 seed in the East.

        The top two seeds in each division, the only schools in the tourney with winning records, get first-round byes and only have to play a maximum of three games. No team in league history has ever played four straight days and won the title.

        If Xavier gets knocked out in the tournament and does not gain an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, it will have to hope for an at-large berth on Selection Sunday.

        Temple, George Washington and Xavier have been picked by most to go to the NCAA, assuming the A-10 would get three teams. With an RPI of 65, XU's the shakiest of the three. Rhode Island (17-12) needs some help.

        • Team to beat: George Washington. It's hard to bet against the Colonials, who have won 10 of 12. Temple, the tournament's top seed playing in its hometown, has not won the conference tournament since 1990; there must be a reason for that. A No.1 seed has won the tournament seven straight times.

        • Toughest draw: Xavier. The Musketeers' path if seeding holds: UMass, Temple, George Washington. That's a tough threesome.

        • Weakest draw: George Washington. The Colonials start with the St. Bonaventure-Dayton winner, then will likely face Rhode Island. GW beat the Rams by seven at the Provi dence Civic Center on Jan. 23.

        • Dark horse: Massachusetts. The Jekyll-and-Hyde Minutemen have a bruiser inside (Lari Ketner) and one of the best guards in the league (Monty Mack) and are capable of winning any game. They have proven that with victories over Xavier and Temple (both at home) in the last nine days of the regular season. Of course, in between they lost at La Salle. Go figure.

        • Team that most needs automatic bid: Rhode Island. The Rams' loss at home to St. Bonaventure last Wednesday night and Sunday at Fordham put them in a must-win situation. They probably need to get to the tourney final to even be on the NCAA bubble.

        • Player most likely to be MVP: Shawnta Rogers. Is anyone in position to doubt GW or what its 5-foot-4 point guard can do? If the Colonials win the tourney, Rogers will be the driving force that gets them the title.

        • Player under pressure: Gary Lumpkin. Xavier's senior point guard, a four-year starter, is coming off the first scoreless game of his college career. The Musketeers need production from Lumpkin to make a run.

       



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