Xavier sent a strong reminder to the rest of the Atlantic 10—they are still the team to beat in the conference.
The Musketeers dominated a very good Richmond team on Saturday, winning by 23. What made it more impressive was that the win came in Richmond.
Xavier improved to 7–0 in conference play, currently tied with Duquesne for first place.
Winners of each of the past four Atlantic 10 regular season titles, Xavier has developed a firm stranglehold on the league. Despite some struggles early on, they do not appear ready to let go of it this season.
Xavier, as they usually do, played a fairly challenging schedule prior to Atlantic 10 play, which led to a mediocre 8–5 record through early January.
The Musketeers played in the Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands, and beat Iowa and Seton Hall before losing to Old Dominion in the championship. They traveled to Spokane, losing to Gonzaga. They lost at home to Florida, who they beat last year in Gainesville.
The loss that really struck a nerve with the Musketeers was to hated inner-city rival Cincinnati. They suffered a painful 20-point loss to the Bearcats at Fifth Third Arena. Scoring just 46 points, it was easily their lowest team point total this season.
Since that debacle, Xavier has won seven straight. During that stretch, they've averaged just over 80 points a game, while giving up just under 65. Three of those wins are against teams who are currently tied for third in the A-10—Massachusetts, Temple and Richmond. They also won at Rhode Island by 27.
Including this season, Xavier has lost a grand total of 11 A-10 games over the past five years, going back to 2007. That is about as dominant of a run in a league of this caliber as you will see. For some, it may be reminiscent of the great run UMass had under John Calipari in the early-to-mid '90s.
This year's Xavier team—just like their teams over the past several years—follows the same blueprint of power-conference talent with mid-major-level experience.
The current starting five consists of two seniors (Jamel McLean and Dante Jackson), and two juniors (Terrell "Tu" Holloway and Kenny Frease). Holloway has turned up his game to another level this season, averaging 21 points a game, and moving to the front of the A-10 Player of the Year race.
Sophomore Mark Lyons has emerged as the team's second-leading scorer at 13 a game. When Holloway or Lyons fail to convert their scoring opportunities, McLean—one of the best offensive rebounders in the country at 3.5 per game—is often there to clean up.
All of these players have gradually increased their roles each year since coming to Xavier. They have each made key contributions, whether as starters or coming off the bench, to teams who have had substantial success in the NCAA tournament.
In fact, every player on the current roster who started their career at Xavier has made the Sweet 16 in each year of their playing career (the seniors managed to experience an Elite Eight as freshmen in 2008). There are only a couple other players who can make the same claim: Kalin Lucas and Durrell Summers of Michigan State. The Spartans are the only other team to make each of the past three Sweet 16s.
With Xavier once again rounding into their usual conference-dominating, NCAA-tournament-bound selves, a fourth straight trip to the Sweet 16 for the Musketeers would not be the least bit surprising.
Power-conference talent plus mid-major experience equals 16. The formula has become a boringly reliable measure for success.
If only more teams could replicate it.
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