Friday, March 16, 2001

Can Xavier beat luck of Irish?

        KANSAS CITY — Just to be safe, Skip Prosser should set his watch to Mountain Time. The Xavier basketball coach should roll back his clock before tonight's NCAA Tournament opener, and not set it straight until after the final buzzer. Otherwise, he will have to beat Notre Dame on St. Patrick's Day.

        Tonight's 10:20 p.m. (Eastern) tipoff means a post-midnight finish and a clear karma advantage for the Fighting Irish. Xavier has David West, but the Musketeers might be better off Farther West — say the other side of the international date line.

        It might seem a silly thing, but CBS is already bracing for complaints. A network
spokeswoman who declined to identify herself Thursday insisted St. Patrick's Day was never mentioned during the meeting in which the games were scheduled.

        “As an Irish girl and a Notre Dame graduate, I'm thrilled,” she said of the late tipoff. “But as someone who works with CBS, I have no comment. There are a lot of crazies out there. They'll think we're showing favoritism.”

        They don't call it March Madness for nothing.

Passion runs deep

        With the possible exceptions of Groundhog Day and Mardi Gras, no event in our culture spawns more irrational behavior than the NCAA Tournament. It prompts fans to fly cross-country to watch their 16th-seeded team get slaughtered. It prompts players to shave their heads as a sign of solidarity. It prompts Wake Forest coach Dave Odom to scream at a television in Kansas City to protest a whistle blown in Boise.

        Perhaps Odom does not need that much prompting.

        Sixty-five schools have a stake in the NCAA Tournament. Only eight or 10 of them have a legitimate shot at winning it, but all schools are enhanced by taking part. While neither Xavier nor Notre Dame figure to make it to Minneapolis for the Final Four, their first-round matchup is attractive enough to rate prime time in most of America. This has to help recruiting for both sides.

        “Notre Dame-Xavier is one of those games that looks to be very close, very competitive,” said Mike Aresco, senior vice president of programming for CBS. “And Notre Dame has a national following.”

        Accordingly, Aresco said he would consider placing a shamrock graphic on the screen at midnight in observance of the holiday. Prosser professes no concern.

        “We've got a (Brandon) McIntosh and (Maurice) McAfee,” he said. “We're covered.”

Squirrel sighting

        What's more, Prosser has an omen of his own.

        “We have an albino squirrel in the backyard,” he said. “That squirrel is practically undefeated. Every time I see that squirrel, we win. But I hadn't seen that squirrel in a couple of weeks.”

        Before leaving Wednesday for Kansas City, Prosser let his Airedale, Abbey, out of the house. When the dog did not return promptly, Prosser was forced to give chase. It was then that he spotted the white squirrel.

        “It was as if Abbey didn't want me to leave without seeing it,” he said.

        Maybe it was a sign. Or maybe it was just a coach trying to imagine a sign.

        “There isn't anyone who knows who's gonna win the tournament but the Lord,” Mississippi guard Jason Flanigan said Thursday. “He's the only one who can fill out a bracket.”

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