Tuesday, December 14, 1999

XU needs victory for recognition

Beating No. 1 UC would be noticed around the country

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Lenny Brown beats No. 1 UC at the buzzer in 1996.
(Ernest Coleman photo)
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        Here they are again, unranked underdogs staring right in the face of the No.1 team in the nation.

        Last time it happened, Xavier took advantage, upsetting then-top-ranked Cincinnati on a last-second shot by Lenny Brown.

        That was three years ago.

        The Musketeers find themselves in a similar spot. They were not in the NCAA Tournament last spring and are nowhere to be found in any top-25 polls this month. They are searching for a chance to enhance their status nationally.

        The Crosstown Shootout is 9p.m. Saturday at the Cincinnati Gardens. A national audience on ESPN will be watching.

        Opportunity knocks for Xavier (5-2).

        “Obviously any time you play the No. 1 team in America, and then it happens to be right in the same city, if you can spring a major upset you're going to get all kinds of national PR,” said ESPN analyst Dick Vitale, who will work the Cincinnati city rivalry for the first time. “Especially with the game being on national TV. ... A win over Cincinnati, that's an A-plus "W.' But let me tell you, it will not be easy, baby.”

        When the Musketeers won 71-69 in November 1996, they maintained momentum and went on to capture 10 straight games to open their season. They were, at the time, one of the surprises in the country and moved into the Associated Press poll at No.23 the week following the UC victory.

        XU's national ranking got as high as No. 11 that season, and it remained in the top 25 until Feb. 9, 1998.

        “From the minute we won that game, we were on SportsCenter, we were on CNN,” Xavier coach Skip Prosser said. “Without question, it heightened the awareness of Xavier nationally. I think that was a big catalyst to proving that we could play on a national level.

        “I think we had had a very good program down through the years, but when you beat the No. 1 team in the country that just validates everything.”

        That's why, in this case, UC's No.1 ranking supercedes the fact that it's Xavier's crosstown rival.

        The Musketeers need to win if they want to climb back into the country's consciousness. They fell out of the AP poll last Dec. 7 and have not returned. They were a bubble team and left out of the 64-team field when the NCAA Tournament pairings were announced last March.

        Having a chance to beat any team ranked No. 1 is a bonus. That it is Cincinnati only furthers the cause.

        “I think the game has transcended being a local, extremely intense rivalry,” Prosser said. “I think it's an opportunity, it's a challenge, it's a situation where the world is watching. It's one of the reasons you play college basketball, to test yourself against the best, and right now Cincinnati's the best.”

        There are several reasons this game is important for Xavier:

        • It's a chance to erase the bad taste XU left with viewers the last time it played on national TV: the 41-point loss to No. 8 Kansas in Alaska.

        • It's a chance to show potential recruits the kind of high-profile games the Musketeers have on their schedule.

        • It's a chance for a quality showing against a ranked opponent, which can't hurt when the NCAA Tournament selection committee discusses at-large bids. Xavier has only one other current top 25 team, Temple, left on this season's schedule.

        “(A Xavier victory) would put them back in the forefront of people's minds as a really good team,” ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said. “Winning this game isn't going to make them a program; I think they're that already. There's no question that winning that game would give them more exposure. That's a no-brainer. People who ordinarily wouldn't notice, will notice.”


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