With Xavier having already clinched the Atlantic 10 title, the Musketeers’ final two regular-season games won’t have any impact on the standings.
But Thursday’s visit to Saint Joseph’s could make or break the Hawks’ season as they sit on the NCAA tournament bubble.
A win over an elite team like the No. 8 Musketeers (25-4, 13-1) could go a long way toward helping Saint Joseph’s secure a possible at-large bid into the 65-team field.
But the Hawks (17-10, 8-6) would need to end Xavier’s 11-game winning streak, and the Musketeers still have plenty to play for as they hope to extend their longest winning streak under coach Sean Miller and zero in on a possible No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament.
“We’re not done yet,” Xavier guard Stanley Burrell said. “There’s a lot left. We’ve got a lot of goals we still haven’t reached.”
Xavier nearly suffered a letdown in its first game since clinching the A-10 title, but held on after blowing an 18-point lead to beat George Washington 66-56 on Saturday.
The Musketeers shot just 16-of-29 from the foul line, but made 22-of-40 from the field and had five scorers between nine and 15 points as they overcame what Miller called “probably our worst performance in almost a year and a half.”
“I didn’t think it was going to be like this,” Burrell said. “But like I always say, we find a way at the end. As a team, we find a way.”
Xavier is also trying to find a way to rest point guard Drew Lavender before the postseason. Lavender, one of five Musketeers averaging between 10.6 and 11.7 points, has struggled with a sprained ankle and battled a respiratory illness Saturday, when he was held scoreless in 16 minutes.
“He’s really struggling as a player—being able to guard the ball, to push the ball, to be effective,” Miller said. “I really wanted to make sure I’m putting our team in the best position to win.”
Xavier is enjoying its longest winning streak since the 2002-03 season, when it won 16 straight games. A win on Thursday would match the single-season school record for wins, established by the 2002-03 team that went 26-6.
This season’s run includes a 76-72 win over St. Joe’s on Feb. 10, when Burrell scored 16 points.
Rob Ferguson had 18 points and Pat Calathes had 16 for the Hawks in that game, and the two seniors, along with reserve Arvydas Lidzius, will be honored at Thursday’s Senior Night ceremonies.
The game will also be the last at Alumni Memorial Fieldhouse before the building is renovated, but the Hawks will be more concerned with ending their slump.
After losing five of their last seven games—including three in a row at home—the Hawks may need to win both their games before the Atlantic 10 tournament to bolster their NCAA tournament chances.
The Hawks have lost consecutive games, including a 57-56 home defeat to intracity rival Temple on Saturday that was played at the Palestra. Saint Joseph’s has shot just 38.5 percent in its last two games, including 5-of-31 from 3-point range.
Calathes in particular has struggled, shooting just 6-of-30. The Hawks’ leading scorer with 17.9 points per game, Calathes has gone 0-for-12 from beyond the arc his last three games. He had made at least three 3s in four consecutive games before the current slump.
Saint Joseph’s hasn’t beaten a ranked team since it defeated then-No. 17 Wake Forest on March 25, 2004, in the regional semifinals of the NCAA tournament.
But Xavier’s lone conference loss came in Philadelphia, where the Musketeers lost 78-59 at Temple on Jan. 16.