Earning the top seed in the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament
and ending up in the NCAAs has been a given for No. 18 Xavier
Where the Musketeers struggle, though, is winning the conference
title. They haven’t cut down the conference nets since 2006 despite
either winning or sharing the league’s regular-season title the
past five seasons.
The lack of success has not been for a lack of effort. The
Musketeers were eliminated in the semifinals last season in
overtime by Richmond in a game which they could have won had they
made a couple of late free throws.
They also were eliminated in the semifinals in 2009 by Temple
when Dionte Christmas sent them packing with a barrage of NBA-range
“We want to win, because we want to be known as the best team in
the conference,” coach Chris Mack said Thursday after putting his
team through a light workout at Boardwalk Hall in this casino
Xavier (24-6) will kick off two Friday doubleheaders at the
10,000-seat arena when it meets Ohio-rival Dayton (20-12) in the
opening game at noon. The ninth-seeded Flyers, who were beaten
twice by Xavier this season by a total of nine points, knocked off
Massachusetts in the first round on Tuesday.
Xavier has one injury issue this week. Center Kenny Frease, who
averaged 11.9 points and 7.2 rebounds, tweaked his back in practice
on Wednesday and watched Thursday’s workout in sweats. Mack expects
the 7-foot Frease, a matchup problem for many league teams, to be
ready for Friday.
Either way, the team seemed relaxed on Thursday. And why not?
The Musketeers went 15-1 in the league this season, and are the
overwhelming favorite to win this weekend. What’s more, they had a
fun-filled meeting at Dock’s Oyster House on Wednesday night, an
evening that included some singing by the players. In fact, senior
forward Dante Jackson seemed happy with his rendition of some
Stevie Wonder songs.
But he also said that Mack has talked to this team about winning
the conference tournament since the season started. And while the
players know they are going to get an NCAA tournament berth no
matter what happens this weekend, they want more.
“Make no mistake,” Jackson said. “We are here to win this
The Musketeers come into the tourney on a nine-game winning
streak. They have only lost two games since the start of the year,
one to Cincinnati in a contest for the city’s bragging rights, and
another at Charlotte on Feb. 2, their only conference loss.
Xavier is led by junior guard Tu Holloway, who averaged 20.1
points and 5.5 assists in being named the conference’s player of
the year. Fellow guard Mark Lyons is averaging 13.8 points, while
power forward Jamel McLean averaged 10.8 points and 8.5
Dayton, which won the NIT last season, is led by senior forward
Chris Wright, who averaged 12.9 points and 8.3 rebounds.
For all its recent failures in the Atlantic 10 tournament,
Xavier has been magnificent in the NCAA tournament. It has reached
the round of 16 the past three seasons. The only other Division I
school to also do that is Michigan State.