CINCINNATI (AP) — Xavier is heading into what could be its final Atlantic 10 tournament knowing it needs to be there at the end to extend its impressive March streak.
The Musketeers (17-13) are one of only eight teams to reach the NCAA tournament each of the last seven seasons. They head into the league tournament, which is being held at the Barclays Center in New York for the first time, knowing it's their only path to another NCAA berth.
They are seeded seventh for their opening game on Wednesday against Saint Joseph's, which beat them by 10 points in Philadelphia in January.
"We always talk about how the games that are remembered are the ones you play in March," forward Jeff Robinson said on Tuesday. "What happened in the first game against Saint Joe's, not many people are going to remember. But when we play Saint Joe's on Thursday, that's what everyone will remember."
This week could be remembered as Xavier's final moments in a league it has dominated the last few years. With seven Catholic basketball schools leaving the Big East and taking the league's name along, Xavier and new A-10 member Butler could be on the move as well.
The Big East completed its break-up on Friday. Georgetown, St. John's, Providence, Seton Hall, Villanova, Marquette and DePaul will start competing in a reconfigured Big East next season, looking to add at least a couple of teams.
The games in Brooklyn could turn out to be Xavier's A-10 adieu.
"Obviously we've paid attention to it," senior guard Brad Redford said. "We've seen the changes that happened in the Big East. We're just focused on this team. We're not really concerned about next year. We're not ready to turn the page to that chapter yet."
They've got a lot of winning to do this week in order to extend their season. They head into the tournament with some noteworthy wins — Saint Louis, Butler, Temple, Memphis, Purdue — and a lot of near-misses that could have pushed them over the top.
An inexperienced roster — no returning starters from last season — with little depth has held its own and grown up a little bit as the season's gone along.
"There's no doubt we've gotten better," coach Chris Mack said. "I think one of the things this group has to do a little bit better is finish games. We've had a freshman and a sophomore with the basketball in our backcourt, and they've got to play like juniors and seniors in Brooklyn."
The Musketeers have relied on sophomore point guard Dee Davis and freshman shooting guard Semaj Christon for a lot of their offense. Davis suffered a sprained wrist and a head injury that sidelined him, and Christon has been forced to play a big role as a true freshman.
Christon leads the Musketeers with 15.4 points per game. He was picked as the A-10 Rookie of the Year on Tuesday, the first Xavier player to get the honor.
"Very impressive," Mack said. "The thing about Semaj is he's had a lot on his shoulders from day one. He's competed from the beginning with an inexperienced team. He's gotten better and better as the year's gone on. He's been very consistent throughout the entire year."
Last year, Xavier had its streak of five straight A-10 regular-season titles snapped. The Musketeers headed into the A-10 tournament knowing they needed a few wins to assure themselves of a spot in the NCAA tournament. They reached the title game, got that NCAA berth and made it to the round of 16.
Anything short of the title game again probably ends their NCAA streak. The Musketeers have won the A-10 tournament four times, most recently in 2006 when it was played in Cincinnati.
"We beat the best team in this league," Redford said, referring to a 77-66 overtime victory against Saint Louis last week. "We've played with all the top teams, been right there. We just need to be able to finish games. That's something we've tried to learn over the course of the season. We're confident. We feel we can play with anybody in this league."
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