Sunday, March 07, 1999

Muskies anxious about selection

Xavier could be in or out

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        There is some anxiety surrounding Xavier as the Musketeers wait to see their name on the television screen tonight when CBS reveals the 64-team NCAA Tournament field.

  What others are saying about Xavier:
• CBS SportsLine website: 7th seed playing Washington in Boston (East Region)
  • CNN/SI website: Lock for NCAA
  • “Close, but NIT”
  • ESPN website: 12th seed playing Wisconsin in Orlando and one of last four teams in field (South Region)
  • The Sporting News website: 11th seed
  • USA Today: 12th seed playing Louisville in Denver (West Region)
        The uneasiness went up a notch when Rhode Island gained the Atlantic 10's automatic NCAA bid with a 62-59 victory over Temple in the conference title game Saturday night.

        With a loss to Temple on Friday night in the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament semifinals, Xavier (21-10) must hope for an at-large bid to get into the NCAA for the third straight year.

        “I feel nervous,” senior James Posey said Friday night.

        The Musketeers think they have the credentials to get in. But there is concern because they don't know what's going to develop from the other conference tournaments.

        Why all the confusion? Well, here are a few pros and cons:

        IN: Xavier has 21 victories, passing what is usually considered the benchmark 20 wins. It went 16-6 after a miserable 5-4 start.

        OUT: The only so-called quality victories: Butler, Miami, Rhode Island, Temple, George Washington. XU has 10 losses, including some bad ones (La Salle, Dayton, San Francisco) and is 4-5 against teams with a higher RPI.

        IN: Xavier went 12-4 in the Atlantic 10, finished second in the West Division and defeated every team in the league at least once.

        OUT: This was a down year for the league. Temple and George Washington, the division winners, have to be considered locks.

        Rhode Island's surprise title could not have helped Xavier. The Rams, who were probably NIT bound, got the automatic bid. Now for the Musketeers to get in, the NCAA would have to take four teams from the conference.

        IN: Two of XU's last three losses were at the buzzer of a second overtime (UMass) and regulation (George Washington).

        OUT: The Musketeers are 6-4 over their last 10 games and 6-6 in their last 12.

        IN: When Xavier lost to Pittsburgh, Purdue and Toledo, those teams were playing the best basketball of their seasons.

        OUT: Pitt went into a free-fall, Purdue may end up limping into the NCAA, and once-mighty Toledo might be NIT bound.

        And so it goes.

        The question is this: How much do the raw numbers count?

        It has been said that the selection committee relies heavily on the Rating Percentage Index rankings. No team has ever gotten an at-large bid with higher than a 69 RPI. Less than a handful have gotten at-large bids with a ranking in the 60s.

        Xavier's RPI is 66. It has been high much of the season because of the weak schedule. Had Pitt and Purdue continued to play well, and Toledo done damage in the Mid-American Conference, that would have helped Xavier's RPI.

        Cincinnati's losses have hurt. The decline of the Atlantic 10 Conference, where only four teams have winning records, has hurt.

        None of this is Xavier's fault. The schedule looked to be tough enough in October. The one thing the Musketeers did to hurt their cause was lose to Pittsburgh in the first game at Puerto Rico. That took away an opportunity to play Kentucky, then perhaps UCLA, and improve the strength of schedule.

        Forty-one teams rated ahead of XU went into Saturday with at least 20 victories.

        If the committee looks beyond the numbers, the Musketeers have a better chance. Their last “bad game” was Feb. 6 at La Salle. They have otherwise played pretty well down the stretch.

        They also have some intangibles in their favor.

        They have three fairly well-known seniors, including one who is a probable first-round NBA draft pick. It also can't hurt that George Washington athletic director Jack Kvancz is on the committee and his coach Tom Penders considers Xavier a Sweet 16-caliber team. Once his Colonials are set, perhaps he will speak on Xavier's behalf.

        Everyone will just have to wait and see.


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