Thursday, February 5, 2004

With no time to revel, Musketeers forge ahead



By Dustin Dow
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Xavier University pulled off its biggest win of an up-and-down season Tuesday against No. 10 Cincinnati, but at this point, the Musketeers are still long shots to receive an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Still, that's better than having no chance at all, which probably would have been Xavier's fate had the Musketeers (11-9) lost to Cincinnati. The win boosted Xavier's ratings percentage index 11 spots to No. 67, according to CollegeRPI.com, and kept alive the Musketeers' slim Tournament chances.

With nine games and the Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament remaining, Xavier must nearly win out to get an at-large bid, said CollegeRPI.com's Jerry Palm. Games at Richmond and against Dayton at home will be particularly important, because those teams have a top-50 RPI and are at-large candidates to make the field of 65.

"(Tuesday), Xavier showed they can beat a team that's going to be in the Tournament," said Palm, who projects the Tournament bracket each Monday on his Web site. "But I don't know if 10 losses is going to get them in. I do know they can't afford to lose to anybody but Dayton or Richmond. Wins over them would be nice."

In addition to Dayton, Xavier must play Fordham, Massachusetts, Duquesne and George Washington at home. The four road games left include Richmond, La Salle, St. Bonaventure and Temple. Richmond's RPI is No. 33 and Dayton's is No. 41. The next highest team is George Washington at No. 80, and five of the teams are worse than No. 127.

So Xavier's opportunities for RPI-boosting victories are essentially limited to the Feb. 10 game at Richmond and Feb. 21 against Dayton, until the A-10 Tournament March 10-13.

A win there would earn Xavier the A-10's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

The lowest-rated team ever to receive an at-large bid was New Mexico, which made the NCAA Tournament in 1999 with a No. 74 RPI and 23-8 record. Last year, 18-12 North Carolina State made the Tournament as an at-large team with an RPI of No. 53.

Xavier also will root for opponents like Cincinnati, Alabama, Mississippi State and Saint Joseph's to keep winning, which will improve the Musketeers' RPI.

Palm currently does not have Xavier in the Tournament, and neither do other so-called "bracketologists" such as ESPN.com's Joe Lunardi and CBSSportsline.com's Tony Mejia.

"Xavier wouldn't even get consideration at this point," Palm said. "They've got to put together a run first."

Xavier players know their situation and realize they must string together some wins.

"It's not too early to think about it," senior guard Lionel Chalmers said. "We can have it in mind, but we have to understand that if we don't take it one game at a time, then we won't be going down that road."

It is a message Chalmers and his teammates surely will hear on a regular basis the next few weeks from the Xavier coaching staff.

"In college athletics, there are so many ways a team can be led if you allow them to," Xavier coach Thad Matta said. "We have to lead this team with the one game at a time approach. We don't have the luxury of, for example, a Duke being able to say we're playing for a (high) seed right now."




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