By Dustin Dow
The Cincinnati Enquirer
By this time Thursday, Xavier University players either will be preparing for their biggest game of the season or reeling back at home from a disastrous loss.
The Musketeers (19-10) open the Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament at Dayton's UD Arena at noon today against St. Bonaventure, a team still hurting from last year's academic scandal. The Bonnies (7-20) are not even eligible to play in the NCAA Tournament, even if they make an unlikely A-10 championship run.
If Xavier wins, the Musketeers would advance to face No. 1 and 27-0 Saint Joseph's in the quarterfinals. Should St. Bonaventure upset Xavier, the Musketeers probably would be relegated to the NIT, rather than qualifying for the larger NCAA Tournament.
"It's scary, honestly, because they don't have anything to lose," Xavier senior guard Lionel Chalmers said. "They're going to go out and play as hard as they can because they don't have anything to lose.
"And we understand that, and we're going to continue doing what we've been doing all year. We just have to win."
Xavier has been playing - and winning - with pressure since the beginning of February, when it began a string of nine wins in 10 games to get back into NCAA at-large consideration. Now, Xavier needs to keep winning for a few rounds in the A-10 Tournament to keep its NCAA hopes alive.
"We're not worried about if we've done enough or if we haven't done enough," Chalmers said. "You want to win every game. We're not going to feel like, 'We're in, so we'll lose now.' We've been playing critical games for the last 10, 11 games."
It was only two weeks ago when Xavier went to Olean, N.Y., and found itself tied 29-29 with St. Bonaventure at halftime.
Xavier recovered to win by 15 points, but those first 20 minutes left an impression with Xavier's players - they can't look past St. Bonaventure to Saint Joseph's.
"That was the worst first half we played this year," Xavier senior Romain Sato said. "Me, personally, I didn't even do a good job in the first half. We don't want to slip up in this game. One game and you could be done."
This is the fourth conference tournament for Xavier seniors Sato and Chalmers, who have received a first-round bye the previous three times. Had the Atlantic 10 presidents voted to ban St. Bonaventure from the league tournament, Xavier would have received a bye this year as well.
"You always like to get a bye," Sato said. "But we feel like it will be good for us to get ready to play hard in the first game. We don't have anything to wait for."
St. Bonaventure has no incentive, other than winning the A10 Championship or spoiling another team's NCAA chances. The Bonnies cannot receive the league's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament because of the program's probation terms.
St. Bonaventure was banned from last year's A-10 Tournament after it was discovered the team had been playing with an ineligible player. The Bonnies later quit the season before their final two games.
"The important thing for our young men as we continue to build our program is just concern ourselves with the next game," first-year St. Bonaventure coach Anthony Solomon said. "We're excited to be back in the A-10 tournament. We need to be back in this atmosphere."
ATLANTIC 10 CONFERENCE
David Hawkins, Temple
Jameer Nelson, Saint Joseph's
Romain Sato, Xavier
Keith Waleskowski, Dayton
Delonte West, Saint Joseph's
Tony Dobbins, Richmond
Marques Green, St. Bonaventure
Ramod Marshall, Dayton
Gary Neal, La Salle
Mike Skrocki, Richmond
Lionel Chalmers, Xavier
Michael Haynes, Fordham
Dawan Robinson, Rhode Island
Steven Smith, La Salle
T.J. Thompson, George Washington
All-Defensive Team: Romain Sato, Xavier
All-Academic Team: Lionel Chalmers, Xavier
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