If both Xavier and Dayton had won their games over the weekend, Wednesday’s matchup between the southwestern Ohio rivals would have been for first place in the Atlantic 10.
Instead, each team will be trying to rebound from a loss when the 14th-ranked Musketeers travel to Dayton, where the Flyers have won 16 straight games since the last time Xavier visited.
Xavier (20-3, 8-1) had won 11 straight to surge into the top 10 before Saturday’s 72-68 loss to Duquesne, the Musketeers’ first conference defeat of the season.
Normally one of the better defensive teams in the nation, Xavier trailed by 15 at halftime after allowing 45 points on 17-of-21 shooting (81.0 percent). Its second-half push came up short even though it held the Dukes without a field goal for the final 7:44.
“It’s one thing to give up a high percentage, but it’s a whole different thing to give up 81 percent,” coach Sean Miller said. “That’s insurmountable for an opponent.”
Still, the Musketeers have posted their fourth straight 20-win season, and they remain in first place in the A-10 with a half-game edge on St. Joseph’s.
Not only does Xavier’s defense rank in the top 20 nationally by holding opponents to 38.3 percent shooting, but the team shot 50.5 percent from the field during its 11-game winning streak, averaging 77.8 points over that span.
Senior B.J. Raymond has been the leader lately, averaging 21.6 points in his last five games. The Musketeers, though, have thrived behind a balanced offense that includes eight players averaging between 5.1 and 13.9 points.
That formula has presented major problems for Dayton (21-3, 7-2) the last two seasons, with Xavier going 6-0 in the series and eliminating the Flyers from the A-10 tournament both times. The Musketeers’ average margin of victory in those games was more than 14 points.
Dayton’s last home loss came last Feb. 24, when then-No. 10 Xavier won 57-51.
Since then, the Flyers have won 16 consecutive home games, going 14-0 this season. Opponents have averaged 53.4 points and shot 35.5 percent at University of Dayton Arena in 2008-09.
Dayton’s seven-game winning streak was snapped on Sunday with a 79-66 loss at Charlotte. The Flyers were outscored 46-29 in the second half and outrebounded 36-28 for the game.
“We had guys play 12 to 20 minutes and not get any defensive rebounds,” coach Brian Gregory said. “That’s unacceptable if we are going to be successful.”
The Flyers are trying to get back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2004, and they’ve placed themselves in good position after another torrid start despite losing leading scorer Brian Roberts to graduation.
But they’re hoping to avoid another late stumble after starting 14-1 last season before ending up in the NIT and finishing 23-11.
Like Xavier, Dayton utilizes a balanced attack, with five players averaging more than 7.0 points, led by 12.6 from sophomore Chris Wright. It also has the top scoring defense in the A-10, allowing 59.0 points per game.
This game is the first in college basketball this season between 20-win teams. Sixth-ranked Duke and No. 3 North Carolina will play the second later Wednesday night.
The winner of this game will hold the Blackburn/McCafferty trophy until the teams meet again March 5.