Although Xavier has made five NCAA tournament appearances in the past six seasons, the Musketeers have never won an Atlantic 10 title and swept the conference tournament in that time.
After taking a third straight league title, 19th-ranked Xavier looks to break that trend beginning with Thursday’s quarterfinal matchup against Saint Louis.
The top-seeded Musketeers (24-6) will need a renewed effort after stumbling at the end of the regular season. Xavier got off to a 20-2 start, but split its final eight games and ended with an 80-75 defeat Saturday at Richmond.
Despite its late-season woes, Xavier finished 12-4 in conference and a game ahead of Dayton, Rhode Island and Temple. While the Musketeers have won six regular-season titles in their 14 seasons in the A-10, that success hasn’t usually carried over into the tournament.
Xavier has won four tournament titles and only two after claiming regular-season crowns in 1997-98 and 2001-02. Since winning their previous tournament championship in 2005-06, the Musketeers have lost in the semifinals in each of the last two seasons.
While his team blew out Saint Louis 70-44 at home on Jan. 8, Xavier coach Sean Miller said facing a young but improved Billikens team might give the Musketeers an early test.
“Their coach is really building their program, recruiting high school seniors, playing them a lot as freshmen and letting them develop,” Miller told the school’s official Web site. “They have a very unique team, and they have clearly had some big wins down the stretch. I think it says a lot about the growth of their program.”
In the January win, Derrick Brown led the way with 20 points on 6-of-6 shooting, and the Musketeers could look to the 6-foot-8 forward again against undersized Saint Louis. The Billikens, who have three seniors and 10 underclassmen on the roster in Rick Majerus’ second season, have only two players taller than Brown - freshmen Brett Thompson (6-10) and Willie Reed (6-9).
In the last meeting, Xavier shot 51.9 percent from the field (28-for-54) while holding a 44-30 scoring advantage in the paint
“They killed us inside,” Saint Louis senior guard Kevin Lisch said after that game. “We have to compete better in there.”
Thursday’s game also will showcase two of the conference’s top defenses in the Musketeers (62.1 points per game) and Billikens (64.9). Xavier, though, held St. Louis to 30.8 percent shooting (16-for-52) in January as Majerus’ team suffered their largest margin of defeat this season.
While they might not have enough to upset the Musketeers, the ninth-seeded Billikens (17-13) could carry some momentum after their dramatic finish in Wednesday’s tournament opener against La Salle.
Kwamain Mitchell’s layup with 1.8 seconds left in overtime gave Saint Louis a 62-60 victory. Mitchell finished with a team-high 18 points to give the Billikens their third A-10 tournament win since joining the league in 2005-06.
While the teams have split their six conference meetings in those four seasons, the Musketeers have won the past three by an average of 15.7 points.
Xavier leads the series 23-12.