Tuesday, November 23, 1999

Xavier's mission in Alaska: Beat top-ranked teams

Muskies needs wins to help ratings

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        It's never too early to start thinking about March Madness, is it?

        Xavier left Monday for the Great Alaska Shootout in Anchorage, Alaska, where it will play its first game Thursday against Louisville (9:30 p.m. EST).

(all times EST)
  1: Grambling State vs. Georgia Tech, 10 p.m.
  2: Washington vs. Alaska-Anchorage, midnight

  3: Xavier vs. Louisville, 9:30 p.m.
  4: Kansas vs. Georgia, midnight (ESPN)

  5: Loser Game 1 vs. Loser Game 2, 4 p.m.
  6: Loser Game 3 vs. Loser Game 4, 6 p.m.
  7: Winner Game 1 vs. Winner Game 2, 9:30 p.m.
  8: Winner Game 3 vs. Winner Game 4, midnight (ESPN)

  9: 7th and 8th-place game, 4 p.m.
  10: 4th and 6th-place game, 6 p.m.
  11: 3rd and 5th-place game, 9 p.m.
  12: Championship game, midnight. ESPN

        The winner then plays the Kansas-Georgia winner. Getting an opportunity to face the 10th-ranked Jayhawks — not to mention a victory over the Cardinals — could help the Musketeers in four months.

        Aside from Temple and Cincinnati, this might be Xavier's only other chance to face a top-20 team. Win or lose, it's the kind of game that may boost XU's Rating Percentage Index and Sagarin Ratings, which help rank teams with consideration to strength of schedule.

        “This team's a long way from worrying about RPI,” XU coach Skip Prosser said. “Having said that, it's one of the reasons why you go.”

        Last year was the first time XU competed in a so-called “exempt” tournament, where it would play three games in three days.

        The trip to the Puerto Rico Shootout, however, didn't go quite as planned. The Musketeers went 1-2, losing to Pittsburgh and San Francisco.

        “You know what, I'm tired of talking about Puerto Rico,” Prosser said. “That was last year. Hopefully we learned some lessons from it.”

        Those losses might have haunted XU in March when it was passed over by the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee. Pittsburgh, which beat XU (94-76) and Kentucky in Puerto Rico, was a top-25 team after that tournament, then nose-dived to a 14-16 finish. San Francisco finished 12-18.

        On Monday, Xavier was No.23 in the latest Sagarin ratings. As for the rest of the Great Alaska Shootout field, Kansas was 20, Washington 47, Georgia 62, Louisville 123, Georgia Tech 144, Grambling State 318 (of 319 teams). Alaska-Anchorage is a Division II team.

        Xavier's first opponent, Maryland-Eastern Shore, ranked 291. The Musketeers beat the Fighting Hawks by 44 points. East Tennessee State, which plays at XU on Dec.4, is No. 307 in the Sagarins, and Central Michigan, which plays host to the Musketeers on Dec.11, is No. 267.

        “I use scores, so just the act of winning isn't enough,” said Jeff Sagarin, whose ratings appear weekly in USA Today. “If you play (a weaker team), for me, you have to win impressively so you

        at least tread water. If you play (a strong team) and lose by 60, it may help your strength of schedule but your rating goes down.”

        In March, a better strength of schedule can help a team on the brink of being left out of the 64-team NCAA field, or help get a team a higher seed.

        “Obviously playing the better teams is going to be good for them,” said Jim Sukup, whose RPI system is used by the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee. “If they win the game, that's all for the better; lose the game, they still have played some good stiff competition and the selection committee is going to take a look at those games and note them accordingly.”

        Xavier needs little added motivation for this week. Senior Darnell Williams said he will remind his teammates how they felt after last year's surprising first-round loss to the Panthers in San Juan which cost XU a chance to play Kentucky.

        “You've got to be mentally tough day in and day out,” Williams said. “As long as you play hard and give it your (best) effort that's all you could ask. In Puerto Rico, at times, we weren't playing well and we weren't playing hard.”

        “Last year, I'm going to speak for myself, I didn't go down there for the right rea sons,” said sophomore Lloyd Price. “I thought, "I'm going to Puerto Rico, I'm going to have some fun.' This year, I'm all about trying to win. We're all focused. We're going up there to play hard. It's not a vacation. Of course, you're going to have fun, but you have fun when you win.”


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