Xavier probably can’t ask for an easier opponent in its first game as a ranked team this season.
The 25th-ranked Musketeers look to extend their win streak to six and hand Fordham a 20th straight loss Wednesday night.
Xavier (21-7, 12-2 Atlantic 10) has won 13 of 15 to break into the Top 25 for the first time. The Musketeers knocked then-No. 23 Richmond out of the rankings with a 78-76 double-overtime win Sunday over the Spiders that left Xavier tied with No. 20 Temple atop the conference.
“The team has definitely talked about it,” senior Jason Love said. “At certain points of the year, we were right there at getting ranked and lost a tough one. It’s definitely a great mark for your season. We’re just glad to be at the top of the Atlantic 10 and controlling our own destiny.”
The Musketeers don’t actually control their destiny for the top seed in the conference tournament since they lost 77-72 at Temple on Jan. 20, giving the Owls the tiebreaker. They might have an easier final week than Temple, which visits fourth-place Saint Louis before hosting surging George Washington.
Xavier hosts St. Bonaventure in its finale Saturday after this visit to Fordham (2-24, 0-14), which owns the nation’s longest losing streak and has not won since Dec. 8.
Overconfidence shouldn’t be a problem, according to Musketeers first-year coach Chris Mack. Xavier lost three starters from last year’s club that won a third straight regular-season crown and wasn’t expected to contend again.
“Our team at the beginning of the year had a lot of inexperienced guys trying to come together as a team and improve,” Mack said. “When people don’t talk about you or talk about you negatively, it motivates you. It motivates you every day in practice. We do more of our work behind the scenes because we’re not being talked about a whole lot.”
Xavier is 17-1 in A-10 games against Fordham, winning seven straight in the series after a 108-60 rout Jan. 3. Jordan Crawford scored 23 points for the Musketeers, who had a season-high 26 assists on 39 baskets.
A similar result will be expected as the Rams wind down a difficult season in which coach Dereck Whittenburg was fired after a 1-4 start on the heels of last year’s 3-25 campaign. In addition, last year’s A-10 freshman of the year Jio Fontan left the team, leaving interim coach Jared Grasso without the Rams’ leading scorer from a season ago.
A lone bright spot is the way senior Brenton Butler is finishing up entering his final home game. Butler is averaging 18.9 points in his last seven games, beginning with a 26-point effort against the Musketeers.
“Brenton Butler is the epitome of a Fordham student-athlete,” Grasso said. “He’s the kind of player you can build a program around and probably one of the most popular students on campus. We are asking a lot of him this year and he has been responding.”