Dayton Flyers vs. Xavier Musketeers -2 – Atlantic 10 Quarterfinals
Once upon a time Xavier was the seventh ranked team in the nation. Their All-American point guard Tu Holloway was on the short list for the Naismith Award candidates and ESPN’s Andy Katz was touting them as his fourth Final Four team. It seemed like a breakthrough season was coming together for the plucky Xavier Musketeers, long too ‘big’ to be a mid-major but too small to get their full due in the national spotlight. Their long awaited time on the big stage was finally arriving.
That now seems like a really long time ago…
Fast forward to “the fight” that marred an otherwise impressive blowout of crosstown rival Cincinnati in the Crosstown Shootout, and from that moment forward, nothing was quite the same for the Muskies. Losses began to pile up. Effort was questioned. The smart and selfless play that had long categorized the program went AWOL and the Musketeers stumbled to an 11-11 finish that included losses to Long Beach State, Hawaii, LaSalle and Oral Roberts. They went from #7 in the country to squarely on the bubble and one more ‘bad’ loss away from the NIT.
That makes tonight’s game with their fiercest conference rival, Dayton, even more intense than usual. So the question is can Xavier be a productive “intense” or do they bring the kind of intensity that led to technical fouls, turnovers and fisticuffs against Cincinnati? It sounds trivial to ask, but with this team, it has been a legitimate question. Do they have enough positive fight in the tank left to salvage a miserably disappointing season?
If Dayton has anything to say about it, the answer is ‘no’ – and a quick ‘don’t forget about our bubble hopes as well!’ Dayton’s bubble hopes likely need several more wins and an appearance in the A10 final to have any merit, but are technically still alive. Dayton split the regular season meetings with Xavier, hammering them by 15 at home and nearly completing a fantastic comeback in the Cintas Center before falling 86-83. The Musketeers seem to bring out the best in them each season. For Dayton, this is rival number one – but for Xavier, the rivalry will always take a backseat to the Crosstown Shootout and UC.
Dayton has won five of their last seven, but a disappointing loss to Richmond dealt a mighty blow to their at-large dreams. Of those five wins, only two came against teams in the Top 100. At just 9-7 in the A-10 and with their only non-conference quality wins coming over Minnesota and Alabama (if they’d have gotten just one of the Seton Hall or Murray State games we might be having a different conversation), their profile is likely a little too weak, and their record of 20-11 slightly overinflated with soft victories.
This game tonight is do-or-die for both teams. The loser can forget any dream of the Big Dance. Xavier won just five of nine to close the season, but the encouraging note is that each of their losses came to quality ballclubs and were on the road, including a non-conference loss to Memphis. The numbers and stats make Dayton seem like a decent value at +2, but I have a feeling the Muskies mount one last stand and get themselves into the NCAA Tournament. Senior Tu Holloway, despite a brutal second half of the team was still crowned the A-10 Player of the Year, and will still the most talented player on the floor tonight. Mark Lyons and freshman Dezmine Wells also give Xavier the offensive athletic advantage.
It should be an intense game, but give me X laying the two in a valiant final stand to their season.
Free Pick: Xavier Musketeers -2