Friday, January 21, 2000

Xavier needs strong finish for NCAA bid




BY MICHAEL PERRY
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Xavier looks as if it will be going down to the wire in its bid to return to the NCAA after ending up in the National Invitation Tournament in 1999.

THE ROAD AHEAD
  Xavier's remaining opponents with record and RPI (the RPI is used by the NCAA Tournament selection committee to help determine at-large bids and seedings)
  *La Salle (6-9) 164
  Temple (10-4)15
  Fordham (8-9) 112
  Dayton (12-3) 42
  *Geo. Wash. (6-10)146
  Canisius (4-13) 205
  Massachusetts (8-7) 94
  Duquesne (8-8) 172
  Va. Tech (9-7) 128
  St. Bonnie (12-2) 12
  St. Joseph's (7-7) 70
  * XU plays these teams twice
        XU wanted to make the decision easy for the NCAA selection committee. But while the Musketeers can place victories over Louisville and No.1 Cincinnati on their resume, they have several strikes against them already: losses at Miami, Marquette and Du quesne, all games they should have won.

        Marquette has helped. It has won six of its last seven games, including upsets of No.21 DePaul and No.25 Louisville, to improve to 11-5. In March, few may recall that Xavier blew an 18-point lead in Milwaukee, so call it a lost opportunity for the Musketeers.

        XU was rated No.69 in Thursday's Ratings Percentage Index on CollegeRPI.com. It was No.70 last March 8 when it failed to secure an NCAA bid. The margin for error is slim.

What lies ahead?
        Xavier (11-5, 2-2 A-10) has 13 regular-season games left, five against teams in the RPI's top 100: at Temple (15), Dayton (42), Massachusetts (94), at St.Bonaventure (12) and St.Joseph's (70). Those are the only chances for quality victories.

        The Musketeers need to beat LaSalle (164) twice, George Washington (146) twice, Fordham (112), Canisius (205), Duquesne (172) and Virginia Tech (128). Another so-called bad loss would be damaging.

Conference play
        Though it stood in fourth place Thursday — behind Dayton (2-1), Duquesne (3-2) and Virginia Tech (3-2) — in the Atlantic 10 West Division, expect Xavier to battle with Dayton for the title. Those two teams are the best of the West.

        The Atlantic 10 is the No.8-ranked conference by the RPI and probably will get three NCAA bids, four at the most. Dayton, Xavier and St.Bonaventure may end up vying for two spots. Temple will get the other.

        Xavier might need a good showing in the conference tournament and, just as important, might have to hope that no surprise team wins. The Musketeers missed out on an NCAA bid because of two shots last season: One was Shawnta Rogers' 3-pointer at the buzzer that gave GW a victory over Xavier and the division championship; the other was Lamar Odom's 3-pointer that gave Rhode Island the Atlantic 10 Tournament title with an upset over Temple. URI probably took Xavier's spot in the NCAA field.

Holding serve
        Xavier takes a 24-game home winning streak into Sunday's 2p.m. game vs. LaSalle at Cincinnati Gardens. XU needs to make that 31 in a row with home victories over LaSalle, Fordham, Dayton, GW, UMass, Duquesne and St.Joseph's. Those teams are a combined 55-53; only Dayton (12-3) and UMass (8-7) have winning records.

        Winning at Temple on Tuesday night on national television (ESPN2) would help in a big way. Winning at St.Bonaventure, where Temple just lost, March 1 could be imperative.

        XU needs to show it can win on the road against a good team. It also can't rest the whole season on the laurels of its victory in the Skyline Chili Crosstown Shootout.

Root for others
        It helps Xavier's strength of schedule (No.95) when opponents win.

        The Musketeers can only benefit if UC runs the table and stays No.1, Marquette (29 RPI) keeps winning, Princeton (51) rights itself (it is 7-7 after losing three of its last four), and Louisville (40) returns to the top 25, which is where the Cardinals were before back-to-back losses to Alabama-Birmingham and Marquette. XU is 3-1 against that group.

        The Musketeers are capable of changing all this themselves by finishing strong. But this has been an inconsistent and unpredictable team.

        “We're just fighting for our lives now,” Xavier coach Skip Prosser said after the loss at Duquesne last Saturday night.

        True.

        Xavier has to take the floor every game with that in mind.

        Or the NIT will come calling again.

       



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