Friday, March 09, 2001

Wait will be torture




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        PHILADELPHIA — You don't want 12 wrinkled men in rumpled suits sitting around an Indianapolis hotel room this weekend, covered in computer printouts, looking at your school's name and saying, “Hmmm.”

        You don't want to be praying that Wake Forest loses and Florida wins and the committee takes only five from the ACC. My god, what if Alcorn State wins the SWAC?

        Suddenly, what Creighton does becomes vital to your health.

        You don't want that.

        Just guessing, but the last words Skip Prosser wants to hear Sunday night are, “Coach, it's the NIT on Line 1.”

        Did the Xavier coach put himself in that position, for the third straight sea
son? Mediocre George Washington beat Xavier Thursday night. It was a game the Muskies probably needed to win to remove themselves from the dreaded NCAA Tournament bubble. Without it, they're floating around like suds in a tub. Stay tuned for the longest three days of Prosser's year.

        “We put ourselves at the mercy of the committee,” Prosser said after the game. “Seven months of hard work come down to these five days.”

        Figuring Xavier's Dance chances is like telling futures with a Ouija board.

        Good: The Muskies started the night at No.36 in the high-holy RPI. In the last 10 years, 87 of the 100 teams ranked 31 through 40 have made the tournament.

        Bad: Xavier lost for the fourth time in its last 10 games. The selection committee likes strong finishes. GW is 14-17, making it a bad loss at the worst time.

        The only certainty is this: When you have a senior point guard, the Atlantic 10's best player in the middle and two junior starters, you should not lose in the quarterfinals of your conference tournament, to a seventh seed. These Musketeers are never quite as good as they ought to be.

        After struggling to a 42-all halftime tie, Xavier fell behind early in the second half, and stayed behind. For much of the game, the Muskies got next to nothing from their backcourt, forcing Atlantic 10 player of the year David West to play the Atlas role once again. West responded with 20 points and 10 rebounds. Kevin Frey had 21 points. The rest of the team was invisible until late in the game.

        Then in the last four minutes, West never touched the ball except when he rebounded it. Here's a question: How can the best player in the league never touch the ball on offense, in a close game?

        It may be cold to judge a season and a team by whether it makes the NCAA Tournament. But when you play with the big boys, that's the way it is. The pedigreed teams currently playing on the ledge live with a healthy dose of NIT fear. Desperation can be a great motivator.

        Maybe the Muskies knew something the rest of us did not. Maybe they thought they were in before the game. Regardless, the Colonials played as if they were the team in fear.

        “I think we have a lot of good wins,” Prosser said. “This was the first time we lost to a team with a losing record.”

        Said Temple coach John Chaney, “I've been in the tournament 18 of my 19 years, or whatever it is, and I still don't know what we have to do.”

        Neither does Prosser. He's hoping what his team accomplished before Thursday night was enough. And he's sweating. All the way to Sunday.

        E-mail: pdaugherty@enquirer.com. Past columns at Enquirer.com/columns/daugherty.        



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