Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Meet me tonight in Atlantic City

Xavier's late season surge continued this past Saturday at the Cintas Center, where they defeated the Bonnies of St. Bonaventure 93-72 to close out the regular season. The victory put the Muskies at 23-7 overall and 14-2 in conference play, giving them their 4th regular season Atlantic 10 championship in a row. The consecutive A-10 titles are 2nd only to John Calipari's UMASS squad in the mid-90's who won 5 in a row, although less than 4 of them were legitimate so I think we should truly have the record.

The win came on Senior Day at Cintas and there was one, lone senior in the spotlight: Jason Love. No player at Xavier that I've seen has worked harder or more epitomized what it means to play at X. He came in as an overweight freshman from Philadelphia in 2006 and only averaged about 4 minutes a game, never really impacting the team significantly in his first season. After that it was easy to see that Jason didn't want his next 3 years to mirror his first and he got to work. Attending big-man camp in the offseason after his freshman year, Love developed his inside game to a higher level as well as dropping weight and coming in next season in the best shape of his basketball career. Here are his PPG and RPG stats over his Xavier career:

2006-2007- 1.1 PPG; 1.1 RPG
2007-2008- 6.0 PPG; 5.5 RPG
2008-2009- 6.7 PPG; 5.9 RPG
2009-2010- 11.9 PPG; 8.6 RPG

The effort and time he put in speaks for itself and has made him the winningest Musketeer in Xavier basketball history with 105 career victories. I'm starting to tear up while writing this so I'll just say I'm going to miss having Jason anchor the middle of this team next season and I hope we get more players like him in the future.

This is certainly not the end of Jason's, or any of his teammates, season though as the Muskies head to Atlantic City, NJ (the other "happiest place on Earth") for the Atlantic 10 tournament. X will come in as the 2 seed as they tied atop the conference with Temple but lost the tiebreaker based on their 77-72 defeat in Philly back in January. No matter though as the Muskies come in as the hottest team in the field, winners of 7 games in a row and 15 of 18 since the new year has begun.

This latest win streak has come from solid inside play, thanks mainly to the resurgence of Jamel McLean. The 6'8" junior has averaged around 14 PPG and 6 RPG over the past 6 games and his play above the rim has given instant energy at times when it's sorely needed. McLean lost his starting role for part of the season as X tried to show their "developing" center Kenny Frease how to perform with increased minutes (Crystal Pepsi was a better experiment). Jamel needed no other motivation to start playing up to his potential than losing his starting job for a while, and it's paid off greatly. With him and Love now solidly manning the paint for X, I don't see anything less than a run to the title for Xavier in AC.

In terms of looking at the overall Atlantic 10, only Xavier, Temple and Richmond will be able to breathe easy on Selection Sunday regardless of what happens in the tournament. This definitely didn't look like it was going to be the case a few weeks ago but Dayton, Rhode Island and Charlotte have stumbled down the stretch in conference play and are now sitting on the bubble, and probably not the good side. Unless one of them impresses in the tournament (Dayton and X have a potential second round matchup) it looks like they'll all be left out of the NCAA's sadly. I won't be rooting for anyone playing the Muskies obviously, but I'm still hoping that this ultra-competitive league can still get 4 bids because they deserve it for the incredible level of play that most of the teams have been at all season. This should (seriously) be one of the best conference tournaments in America this year and I urge everyone to try and get a look if possible. GO X!

P.S.- I've started praying again, not for world peace or another season of The Critic, but for a Xavier-Notre Dame 1st round matchup in the NCAA tournament. Nothing would make me happier than to ruin the incredible run the Irish have been on in the 1st round while also showing them how superior Xavier is. Sweet dreams Matthew.

1 comment:

  1. Don't you ever stop praying for another season of The Critic.