Saturday, March 10, 2001

Xavier has support for NCAA bid

Prognosticators say Musketeers all but in tourney

By Neil Schmidt
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        You spend a season coaching, and sometimes it comes down to this: scouring the Internet in a Philadelphia hotel room, comparing RPIs, trying to figure out which teams to root for.

        Such was Skip Prosser's fate Friday. The Xavier coach didn't fly home with his team, instead he headed elsewhere to recruit. He wants to stay busy to try to keep his mind off XU's tenuous NCAA Tournament hopes.

  • RPI: 43
  • Record: 21-7
  • League record: 12-4 (tied for second)
  • Record vs. Top 50 RPI: 3-2
  • Record vs. Top 100: 6-5
  • Joe Lunardi ( No.8
  • Jerry Palm ( No.9
  • CBS No.10
  • The Sporting News: No.11
  (RPI, Friday's result)
  Cincinnati (32): Won
  Fresno State (17): Lost
  St. Joseph's (31): Lost
  Hofstra (51): Won
  Cal-Irvine (63): Lost
  Iowa (37): Won
  Georgia Tech (42): Won
  Alabama (50): Lost
  Oklahoma State (48): Lost
  Missouri (44): Lost
  Utah (45): Lost
  BYU (47): Won
  Wyoming (55): Lost
        “It won't do me any good to watch every game and root,” he said. “But I'd be less than honest if I said I wouldn't be showing an interest.”

        The Musketeers found themselves pulling for archrival Cincinnati and unknown Hofstra, and rooting against otherwise-sentimental favorites like Oklahoma State (plane crash victims) and Iowa (Luke Recker injury victims). They find themselves lapping up the data of “bracketology” gurus Jerry Palm and Joe Lunardi.

        “Xavier's in a tough spot,” CBS analyst Clark Kellogg said. “You don't know how their resume will stack up, or more importantly who it will be compared to.”

        The loss to GW dropped XU (21-7) from 36th to 43rd in the Ratings Percentage Index, and its RPI figure probably won't change more than a couple of spots before the draw is announced Sunday. In seven seasons under the current RPI setup, 43 of 70 teams with an RPI in the 40s (61.4 percent) made the tournament.

        Despite a 4-4 finish, Palm ( and Lunardi ( both say XU will get in. Lunardi is adamant: “They're as in as in could be.”

        His reasoning is the shallow pool of worthy at-large candidates.

        “There's a huge drop-off from the teams who've really achieved a clear record of success in the regular season,” he said. “I think Xavier's in that category - 21 wins in a multiple-bid conference, and enough quality wins. There aren't enough teams like that to fill all 34 at-large positions.”

        Palm points to XU being a respectable 3-3 against teams which own bids or are in at-large contention (split ting with St. Joseph's, beating Cincinnati and Temple, losing to Wisconsin and Princeton).

        “It's not like they're 1-9 against the Top 50 (RPI) like Temple is,” Palm said. “I think they've done enough.”

        Palm and Lunardi know their stuff. Last season, both correctly predicted 34 of the 35 at-large selections.

        It didn't help Xavier that St. Joseph's (No. 31 RPI) lost in the Atlantic-10 semifinals Friday night. The committee may feel put upon to take three teams from the A-10. Also, Friday losses by Fresno State (No. 17 RPI) and Creighton (No.25 RPI) stole at-large bids from someone and presumably dropped Xavier two places on the list of bubble teams. But XU has been helped by a relative lack of upsets in conference tournaments.

        XU has some history in its favor: The best record ever left out among major-conference teams was the 20-7 mark of Hawaii (Western Athletic Conference) in 1997. Hawaii had a No.50 RPI.

        XU's RPI is just outside the safe range: No team with 20 victories and an RPI better than 40th has been left out. Only 11 times has a major-conference team with 20 victories been left out — two of those were the past two Musketeer teams.

        Looking for a similar situation to XU's? Last season, Dayton was 22-8 with a 43 RPI and got in.

        “I still think we're one of the best 65 teams in the country,” Prosser said. “I think we should qualify on our own merit.”

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