Monday, March 08, 1999

Xavier's bubble bursts

Muskies' hearts sink after missing NCAA Tournament

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        It was perhaps the hardest part of Sunday. Almost all the Xavier players had filed out of the team lounge after watching the NCAA Tournament draw. Musketeers coach Skip Prosser remained behind closed doors with seniors Lenny Brown, Gary Lumpkin and James Posey.

        Prosser said the trio was “disconsolate” and “devastated.” They had learned they would be playing in the National Invitation Tournament and not the NCAA.

        “I apologized to them if I had done anything to preclude us from getting a bid,” Prosser said. “They rejected that notion. I told them I felt worse for them because they won't get a second chance to do this.

        “I still don't understand how in the last couple days we could beat UMass and lose to Temple and our RPI dropped to 70.”

        The Musketeers (21-10, 12-4 A-10 regular season) will go on the road for their first NIT game, playing at Toledo Wednesday at 7 p.m. The Cincinnati Gardens, XU's home court, is unavailable because of the Shrine Circus; the FirstStar Center is not financially feasible, XU Athletic Director Mike Bobinski said.

        A second-round NIT game could be at the Gardens between March 15-18.

        It will be Xavier's sixth NIT appearance and first trip since 1994, Brian Grant's senior year and the final season for coach Pete Gillen.

        XU won the NIT in 1958 when it was a more prestigious event.

        “I don't even know how many teams are in the NIT,” Lumpkin said.

        For the record, there are 32. Teams play at home sites until the semifinals and final, which are held at Madison Square Garden in New York.

        “Hopefully we can make the (NCAA Tournament selection) committee think that they probably made a mistake,” Lumpkin said. “We'll turn it to a positive. You can trust me on that.”

        After Xavier lost to Tem ple in the semifinals of the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament Friday, Prosser told his players he thought they would be in the NCAA.

        “So I guess I misled them,” Prosser said. “To be honest, I still thought we deserved to go. But I said if this is the worst thing that happens to you in your life you're probably going to have a pretty good life.”

        The Musketeers were together for Sunday's announcement on CBS. The room was quiet. The players were serious. When some teams were announced, there were audible sighs and deep breaths.

        In the end, Lumpkin said he was “disappointed” and “embarrassed.” The seniors, and Prosser, believed Xavier deserved to get in.

        “It hurts a lot,” Lumpkin said. “I think my pride is probably hurt more than anything.”

        Brown said he wasn't sure how he'd regroup and get ready to play.

        “I've never been in this situation before,” he said. “I'm just like everybody else right now, looking for answers. I don't know what to do. I've never been to the NIT in my life ... I don't know how other teams handle it. It's a disappointment.”

        It came down to this:

        • The Musketeers lost two close games down the stretch. George Washington hit a three-pointer at the buzzer to win the A-10 West, and Massachusetts outlasted XU in two overtimes.

        • Lamar Odom's game-winning three-pointer Saturday night gave underdog Rhode Island a victory over Temple and the A-10 automatic bid.

        • Xavier had an RPI of 70; no team with higher than a 69 had ever received an at-large bid. New Mexico (23-8), which lost in the final of the Western Athletic Conference tournament to Utah, got in with a 75 RPI. The next highest was Mississippi at No. 51. Only one other team with a lower RPI than XU and 20 victories did not get in (No. 65 Butler, 20-8).

        • XU was hurt by a weak Atlantic 10 Conference. “You win 13 games in this league and the league should get you in the show,” Prosser said. “This year it wasn't enough; most years it will be.”

        The players filed out of Schmidt Fieldhouse not knowing who or where they'd play next.

        “We started out shaky but we picked things back up,” Posey said. “I'm happy with this season because I know everybody gave their best every game. It just didn't end the way I wanted it to.”

- Xavier's bubble bursts
XU goes from hopeful to heartbroken Tim Sullivan column
Xavier returns to Toledo
Men's NIT pairings
NCAA bid 'a dream' for XU women
Women's NCAA Bracket
Men's NCAA Bracket

Bearcats fall to No. 3 in Duke-led East
UC women get first bid in 10 years
Miami bound for Bourbon Street
Kentucky knows how to win in tournament
Ohio State savors invitation
Who's George Mason? And other musings
CBS quick on the draw
National Invitation Tournament schedule
NCAA Tournament schedule
Women's NCAA Tournament schedule