Musketeers, Bearcats facing tough few weeks
Xavier seniors Jeff Robinson and Brad Redford walked out of the media room at the Cintas Center Friday afternoon following a brief press conference regarding the next afternoon’s game at Dayton.
“It’s going to be interesting the next three weeks,” said the 6-10 center Robinson. Redford, the 6-1 outside marksman, was in harmony with his teammate’s words.
Interesting is an apt term for both of the Queen City’s major Division I college basketball programs, Xavier and Cincinnati. Interesting also got off to a bad start this past weekend.
Cincinnati couldn’t make shots from the field or the free throw line and down the stretch let two guys from Georgetown they didn’t want to beat them do just that in a 62-55 loss to the now No. 11-ranked Hoyas at Fifth Third Arena. Xavier fell behind early at Dayton on Saturday and couldn’t successfully play catch-up as the Musketeers fell to the Flyers 70-59.
The good news for both teams is that "Interesting" includes plenty of opportunity.
UC is 19-7 overall and tied with Villanova and St. John’s for eighth in the Big East at 7-6 but four of its final five games are against teams ahead of it in the conference and currently ranked in the top 50 in RPI, one of the factors the NCAA tournament committee will look at when it puts the brackets together. The Bearcats are No. 40 in the RPI and are 4-5 against teams in the top 50.
Xavier’s reality is that it will most likely have to win the Atlantic 10 conference tournament to secure its eighth straight NCAA bid. The Musketeers are 14-10 and fifth in the A-10 (7-4) with an RPI of 98. Five of their six remaining opponents, including a four-game home stand against No. 24 Virginia Commonwealth, No. 21 Memphis, Massachusetts and Saint Louis, are against teams with RPI of 55 or better.
It will makes things "Interesting."
“We’re playing for a top-four seed (in the A-10) and we’ve got two road games and three at home in the conference against really good teams,” said Xavier coach Chris Mack after the loss at Dayton. “A lot is going to play out over the next two to three weeks. We just have to get better from this game. I have no doubt that we will.”
Despite the tumultuous offseason which left Mark Lyons (Arizona) and Dez Wells (Maryland) playing elsewhere, Xavier has put itself in a position to make a run to the tournament. The Musketeers play at Rhode Island and finish up at No. 15 Butler with the four-game home stand in between.
“If we want to be in the race for the A-10 championship we have to play better. Today wasn’t a great day for us. Dayton played really well and really hard and we didn’t match that intensity,” said Robinson, who had 10 rebounds but no points against the Flyers. “The opportunities are definitely there, we just have to take advantage of it.”
Interesting has a different feel in Clifton.
A lot was expected of this UC team but the Bearcats have now lost three of four games and four of their last seven, a stretch that began with a two-point loss at Syracuse on Jan. 21 when it couldn’t finish off the Orange. A similar scenario played out against Georgetown. After trailing by as many as 12 points in the second half, UC took a 51-50 lead on a jumper by JaQuon Parker with 6:53 remaining.
They proceeded to score four points the rest of the way, with Cashmere Wright’s layup with 0:23 left being the lone field goal. Georgetown got 11 of its final 12 points from guard Markel Sparks and forward Otto Porter to leave UC with its fifth home loss of the season.
“We tried with maximum effort to do it but we made too many mistakes,” said UC coach Mick Cronin. “Effort can only get you so far.”
UC is on the road twice this week, at Connecticut on Thursday and at No. 25 Notre Dame on Sunday. It gets a return home game with UConn and a road game at No. 10 Louisville before finishing against South Florida and then the Big East tournament.
UConn is ineligible for this year’s NCAA and Big East tournaments because of low four-year scores on the NCAA’s Academic Progress Rate (APR) evaluation scale but the Huskies are still 17-7 (7-5) and carry an RPI in the top 35.
“We feel like we’ve a lot more games left against teams that are good and who you can get better against and build your RPI up,” said Wright. “We’ve just got to keep doing things that we’re doing and eliminate the dumb things that we’re doing. It all will take care of itself.