Coming off three huge wins at one of the premier non-conference college basketball tournaments, the Xavier University men’s basketball team looks like it’s picking up right where it left off last season when Sean Miller’s squad made the Elite Eight for only the second time in the school’s history.
This weekend in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, Xavier took home the championship after three very close victories. In the first game Xavier took on Missouri winning 75-71 mostly because the Tigers had a terrible night from the free throw line. The next night the Musketeers played Virginia Tech, a team that missed the NCAA tournament just narrowly last season and is looked at as a bubble team once again this year. Even though Xavier trailed at halftime, they did not look like they were ready to give up a chance to play in the championship game. The regulation buzzer sounded with the score all knotted up after the Hokies had a great chance to win the game on their last possession. In overtime with the score tied, Jeff Allen of Virginia Tech converted a tip-in to give the Hokies a 62-60 lead with just three seconds left. Then, Xavier guard Dante Jackson threw up a half-court heave that banked in giving Xavier a 63-62 thrilling victory and its fourth win of the season.
Tournament favorite and 12th ranked Memphis advanced from the bottom half of the bracket to take on Xavier in the championship game. The Musketeers trailed only once, but it was still a very close game and Xavier’s leads never extended past six points. In the end, free throw shooting was Memphis’ downfall and Xavier went home with the championship trophy despite freshman center Kenny Frease fouling out midway through the second half.
The newly released polls show Xavier at #16 in the AP poll and #20 for ESPN/USA Today’s. With a 5-0 record, and picked to finish second in the conference behind Saint Joseph’s, the Musketeers look like they are still going to have a large say in what happens in the NCAA tournament. However, their slate of games is anything but easy, and some may even say that their non-conference schedule is one of the hardest of any A-10 team.
This Saturday, Xavier takes on Miami (OH), a team that lost to UCLA at Pauley Pavilion by just five points and also caused plenty of trouble early for Pittsburgh. Miami is just 1-2 but their record is very misleading; they play great defense and can be a very dangerous team from behind the arc if left open.
The Musketeers then have two home games against Auburn and Ohio, two improved teams since last season. Xavier then travels to rival Cincinnati, a sleeper in one of the best Big East conferences ever seen in terms of talent and depth. After that, Xavier faces Kyle Singler and the Duke Blue Devils which should provide one of the best tests of the season for both teams as they prepare for their conference schedule.
Xavier then battles Robert Morris, a team that has been very good in the Northeast Conference these past few seasons. They’re also slated to face the inexperienced but dangerous Virginia Cavaliers.
While the Atlantic 10 is down this season compared to years past, there are still many teams that will contend with Xavier for the conference crown: Saint Joseph’s (picked ahead of Xavier in the Preseason A-10 poll), Saint Louis (just upset Boston College at home), and Rhode Island (played Duke to wire at Cameron Indoor). Xavier has crossed a major roadblock winning the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, but they have a very long way to go to not only win their conference, but to have a shot at gaining a respectable seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Led by coach Sean Miller, who has taken Xavier from mid-major level to high major in just five seasons, and players such as Derrick Brown, BJ Raymond, and CJ Anderson, Xavier appears early like it will be a powerhouse once again this season.