By Dustin Dow
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Thad Matta breathed a small sigh of relief Sunday night when he saw his Xavier team would not play in the same NCAA Tournament pod as No. 1-seeded Duke.
Seconds later, the Xavier coach was celebrating a No. 7 seed in the Atlanta region. The Musketeers will play 10th-seeded Louisville in the first round at Orlando, Fla.'s, TD Waterhouse Centre.
Xavier head coach Thad Matta talks about their seventh seed.
(Steven M. Herppich photo)
Matta had every reason to be relieved. Xavier (23-10) avoided the No. 8 versus No. 9 game, which coaches dread because of the practically guaranteed second-round game against a No. 1 seed.
"I was very happy with a seven seed," Matta said. "Going in (to the A-10 Tournament), we were a team that wasn't a lock to make the NCAA Tournament. I think that we earned a seven seed with the performance we had in Dayton."
Xavier won four games in four days in Dayton to win the Atlantic 10 Tournament. The Muskies beat Dayton for the title Saturday.
"Going into the Dayton game (Saturday), I thought we were going to play for a seed," Matta said. "That win right there may have kept us out of that (No. 8 vs. No. 9) game."
Xavier is in a four-team pod where it could potentially play No. 2 seed Mississippi State in the second round on Sunday. Xavier lost at Mississippi State 82-70 on Dec. 13. The selection committee usually tries to avoid repeats of regular-season matchups in the first two rounds of the Tournament.
"I don't want to say I was surprised, because that's got to be one of the toughest jobs in America when you're planning that tournament," Matta said. "That would be a great opportunity for us if we could have a crack at them again."
Sunday was especially sweet for Xavier's three seniors, Lionel Chalmers, Romain Sato and Anthony Myles. The Musketeers made the Tournament after starting the season 10-9. At the end of January, the team was in last place in the Atlantic 10 West.
"It's great for us three because we came a long way from 10-9," Chalmers said. "A lot of people had us penciled in for the NIT, so I'm happy for the way it turned out."
Four Atlantic 10 teams received bids. Saint Joseph's got a No. 1 seed in the East Rutherford region; Dayton a No. 10 in the Phoenix region; and Richmond a No. 11 in the East Rutherford region.
"It speaks volumes of how talented this league is," Matta said. "The question of the Atlantic 10: It is for real."
Last year, Xavier was seeded No. 3, the highest in school history, but lost its second-round game to Maryland, a No. 6 seed.
"We've been down that road, and we don't want to take a left on that road again," Chalmers said. "We're going to do everything we can to make sure we stay on the right path and get this thing done."
In contrast to last season, Xavier is elated just to be in the Tournament, but must keep the focus which led to 13 wins in its last 14 games.
"I don't think with the leadership that these guys have provided, and with the ground that we've covered in the last month in a half, that there would be any chance of us letting down," Matta said.
"We've come too far. I know it's going to be a tough game on Friday, but our guys will be ready to play."
That's partly because Xavier won't be on a site-seeing trip in Orlando, despite the players' affinity for the warm weather location.
"The busses all look the same," Matta said. "It's just about the gym that you're in, because we don't get out a whole lot. We see the hotel, the gym, the bus and that's about it."
XU's road to the title
(Matchups assume higher-seeded team advances.)
Louisville (20-9): Toss a coin. This is easily the tournament's best first-round matchup. Neither team can be thrilled about this. But shouldn't these teams play every regular season, anyway?
Mississippi State (25-3): The Musketeers would love to have a chance to avenge an 82-70 road loss in December.
Texas (23-7): Now remember, the Longhorns have to get past dreaded Princeton in the first round. That's never a sure thing.
Duke (27-5): XU is 0-2 all time vs. the Blue Devils and hasn't played them since Dec. 4, 1993. (Duke won 82-60 at home.)
Stanford (29-1): The only time these schools have met was in the 2002-03 Preseason NIT when XU had to fly to California, then lost a tough one 63-62.
Kentucky (26-4): UK has been duckin' the Musketeers since the 1968-69 season. Probably figured its 37-2 series lead was good enough.
Tickets still available through TD Waterhouse Centre. $105 for all sessions.
Call 407-849-2020 or go to www.orlandocentroplex.com
Limited tickets available through XU athletic department, with priority going to season-ticket holders. No sale of tickets to non-season-ticket holders will begin before today.
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