(AP) – No Xavier team has won 20 games so quickly or been ranked so high. Yet the No. 5 Musketeers don't seem all that impressed by the inroads they've made in the school's basketball history heading into Tuesday night's game against Creighton.
They're thinking the same as everyone else: This team has the potential to rank as Xavier's best when the season's done.
''We're looking at the bigger picture, playing for something much bigger,'' senior guard Remy Abell said.
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Xavier has never reached a Final Four. The Musketeers have come close a couple of times, losing to Duke in a regional final in 2004 and to UCLA in 2008. They've reached the Sweet 16 five times in the last eight years, including last season.
With a month to go before tournament time, this Xavier team is ahead of all of those others.
The Musketeers (21-2, 9-2 Big East) opened the season with a school-record 12 straight wins, a streak ended by a 95-64 loss at Villanova on Dec. 31. Freshman point guard Edmond Sumner fell hard to the court in the early minutes of that game and was taken to a hospital in Philadelphia with a concussion.
They became the first team this season to 20 wins last Wednesday with a win over St. John's. In Monday's poll, they moved back to No. 5 for the second time this season, matching the highest ranking in school history.
They still have a shot at the Big East title – No. 1 Villanova visits the Cintas Center on Feb. 24. Beyond that, they've got a chance to get the best NCAA Tournament seed in school history. Xavier was a No. 3 seed in 2003 with David West and again in 2008.
Although the Musketeers won't say it, their opponents will: These Musketeers have the look of a team that is capable of playing all the way to the end of the tournament.
''They have a hell of a team,'' Marquette coach Steve Wojciechowski said after Xavier's 90-82 win on Saturday. ''I think they're a team that can win a national championship. They've got great depth of talent, and they can really score and shoot.''
Their depth, balance and defense have gotten such notice.
Three players scored at least 20 against Marquette, and that's not an anomaly. Four players average double figures, led by sophomore Trevon Bluiett at 15.7 points. Two others average nine per game. Bluiett is the only one averaging 30 minutes a game. Six others average between 20 and 29 minutes.
With such depth, coach Chris Mack can substitute freely and keep a fresh set of players on the court, which helps with the defense and their push-the-pace style of offense.
Also, Xavier is one of the nation's best rebounding teams, getting outrebounded only twice all season. The Musketeers also rank among the Big East's best teams in various defensive categories, too.
''We're a very good offensive team and we have a lot of confidence in our players, but as long as the defense is working right, everything else will just start to fall into place,'' junior guard Myles Davis said.
The offense is back to full strength with Sumner fully recovered from his fall at Villanova. The 6-foot-6 point guard can shoot the 3 and get to the basket quickly, making him one of Xavier's top threats. He missed three games and wasn't back in form until the win over Marquette on Saturday, when he had 20 points and five assists in 33 minutes.
''It just took me a while to get back in the groove,'' said Sumner, who's averaging 10.9 points. ''I sat out for two weeks. Now I have more confidence in my game.''
Creighton (15-9, 6-5) is looking for a marquee victory to improve its NCAA Tournament chances given its 72-64 win over then-No. 18 Butler on Jan. 23 has lost some luster with the Bulldogs out of the Top 25. The Bluejays snapped a three-game losing streak with an 88-66 rout of DePaul on Saturday as Cole Huff scored 18 of his season-high 28 points in the final 5:14 of the first half and shot 9 of 11 overall.
Coach Craig McDermott was also pleased with the effort on the boards, as the Bluejays outrebounded the Blue Demons 43-25 after being outrebounded by a combined 24 during their skid.
“We've been dominated on the boards the last couple,” he said. “Fundamentally, we're a better rebounding team than we've shown recently. I thought we not only blocked out better, but we pursued the ball and that was really my message the last couple of days.”
The Bluejays are 1-5 against Top 25 teams this season and have dropped 12 of 13 to ranked opponents. The road team won both games last season, with Xavier winning 74-73 at Creighton on Dee Davis' two free throws with 6.3 seconds left.