No. 25 Xavier on verge of 4th straight title

Jason Love keeps mementos from his college years stored in a box

in his room. The collection includes several strands of nylon

basketball net, reminders of his three straight championship

seasons.

Xavier’s lone senior hopes to add a fourth white strand to the

box on Saturday.

The 25th-ranked Musketeers will clinch their fourth straight

Atlantic 10 regular-season title and cut down the nets again if

they beat St. Bonaventure at the Cintas Center on Saturday

afternoon. Another title would put Xavier (22-7, 13-2) in exclusive

company – only Massachusetts has won four straight A-10 titles –

and give its senior another keepsake.

“I keep them stashed away so I can one day show my kids what I

did,” Love said. “I’ve got a box in my room of all the stuff I’ve

collected over the years – papers, writings, clip art, letters I’ve

gotten from people. I’m just saving it. It’s something to look at

when you’re up in age, just to reminisce, I guess you could

say.”

This one might be the sweetest of them all.

Xavier lost three starters off the team that won it all last

season, then had coach Sean Miller leave for Arizona. Chris Mack,

his top assistant, got the job, and the three-time defending

champions got overlooked in the buildup to this season. Dayton was

picked to win the conference.

The Musketeers remind themselves of it every day in the locker

room. Above Jordan Crawford’s locker is a framed copy of a

publication that picked Xavier to finish seventh in the Atlantic

10. Next to Kenny Frease’s locker is the Sports Illustrated

preseason NCAA bracket projection, which doesn’t include the

Musketeers.

“That’s been a motivating factor all season long for me, for

our staff, for our players,” Mack said. “Like I’ve said many

times, there’s a lot of pride in our program.”

The young Musketeers struggled early in the season, going 5-3

with close losses to Marquette and Baylor. They’ve grown as the

season has gone along, winning 10 of their last 11 games, including

a 76-64 win at Florida. They’re tied with No. 20 Temple at 13-2 in

the conference.

The Owls play George Washington at home on Saturday. If both

teams win, they would share the regular-season title. Temple would

get the No. 1 seed in the A-10 tournament because of its 77-72 win

over Xavier in Philadelphia on Jan. 20. The teams played only once

under the A-10’s unbalanced scheduling format.

Xavier has won 23 consecutive home games, tied for the

third-longest active streak in Division I. The Musketeers haven’t

lost an Atlantic 10 game at home since the end of the 2005-06

season, winning their last 31 in a row – three shy of Temple’s

league record.

It’s the first time in school history that Xavier has won 20

games with less than two seniors on the roster. Love will be the

focus of Xavier’s “senior day” pregame festivities, leaving the

Musketeers emotional at the start of their most important game.

“I think any time you’re in a situation like this, you have to

have some concerns,” junior guard Dante Jackson said. “Not to

mention that St. Bonaventure (14-14, 7-8) is a good team. They’ve

won their last four, and they’re playing really well right now. I

think we’re a mature enough team that the festivities before the

game won’t affect us as far as being ready. We’ve been there and

done that through the years.”

They hope it ends with another familiar, emotional ritual. If

they win, they’ll bring out the stepladder and take turns snipping

off pieces of net.

“This one for me is definitely going to be something special,

being the only senior and it’s kind of the last go-around for me,”

Love said. “So this fourth championship will definitely be

something special. I’ll always probably remember it more than the

first three.

“Not to downplay those three, but I’ll definitely cherish this

one the most.”