Tuesday, March 18, 2003

Xavier now the hunted

Muskies arrived with No. 3 seed

By Dustin Dow
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The secret is out by now. Xavier is for real.

By virtue of receiving a No. 3 seed in the South region, 12th-ranked Xavier has entered uncharted territory among college basketball's elite. Historically an upstart squad capable of knocking off a major team, Xavier is now the team little guys hope to upset. It is a new role for Xavier (25-5), which had never been seeded higher than sixth in 14 previous NCAA appearances.

"I don't know what it means other than it reflects on what this team has accomplished this season," said XU's director of athletics Mike Bobinski. "The facts are that we deserve to be there, and we're very pleased with a No. 3 seed."

The high seed improves Xavier's chances to advance to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1990. Anything beyond that would be new ground entirely.

"Every year you get into the NCAA Tournament is a great opportunity," Bobinski said. "With a higher seed, it's a more significant opportunity."

In terms of national exposure, virtually nothing compares to making a deep run through the NCAAs - aside from winning it all. Small schools like Gonzaga, Tulsa and Temple have become household names primarily for their postseason basketball accomplishments.

Xavier has had plenty of regular-season success in the past 20 years, but the Musketeers have yet to make a big statement in the NCAA Tournament. This is a golden opportunity.

"Xavier is still perceived as the little guy that could," said CBS Sportsline.com analyst Dan Wetzel. "But they won't be after people look at them in the tournament. This year, Xavier is changing that perception and people are starting to realize that this is a major league program."

As is Maryland, the defending national champion and a potential second-round opponent if Xavier gets by 14th-seeded Troy State Friday in Nashville.

Maryland, a No. 6 seed, has tournament experience, but would not be favored against the Musketeers, who have a Player of the Year candidate in David West, and an All-American candidate in Romain Sato.

"This is the reality of Xavier now," Wetzel said. "This isn't an underdog team. If they beat Maryland, it will be because this team is for real, not because they got hot from 3-point range or anything like that. Xavier has better players than Maryland. If Xavier executes, it can beat every team in its region."

That includes second-seeded Florida and top-seeded Texas, Wetzel said.

"Xavier will have two of the best three players on the court with any team," Wetzel said. "Teams have to go into games saying, 'How will we shut these two down.' "

Along with winning the Atlantic 10 regular-season title and 16 straight games, Xavier kept itself in the national picture because of West, who is often the first name mentioned in conjunction with XU.

"Xavier did an incredible job of promoting David West this year," Wetzel said. "That's all people know ... but there's a lot more to them than West."


E-mail ddow@enquirer.com

Special NCAA hoops section; Bracket contest

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Pressure and expectations smother winning coaches
Ohio State suspends Williams
BYU's no-Sunday stance could cause NCAA shuffle
Little Mo leads underdog Bulldogs vs. Sooners
Blue Devils to stick with perimeter lineup
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Bobby Knight's son applies for Wright State job
Spirit of Valvano lifts Whittenburg
Tigers learn of bid while on 12-hour bus ride
Asheville gets a whiff of the bigtime

NIT: Iowa 62, Valparaiso 60
UCLA fires Lavin

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