The head coach has changed for Xavier, but if the 25th-ranked Musketeers win their final regular-season game on Saturday, their status in the Atlantic 10 will remain the same.
A victory over St. Bonaventure would be Xavier’s 24th in a row at home, and it would secure the team at least a share of its fourth straight conference crown.
Former coach Sean Miller led the Musketeers to Atlantic 10 titles in each of his final three seasons in Cincinnati before leaving for Arizona in the offseason, and the team also lost its top three scorers after reaching the regional semifinals of the NCAA tournament.
But Xavier (22-7, 13-2) has not missed a beat under coach Chris Mack, Miller’s former assistant. The Musketeers are ranked for the first time this season and tied with Temple for the league lead after winning their last six straight overall.
Their path to another title became clear following a 78-76, double-overtime win over then-No. 23 Richmond on Sunday, and only one hurdle remains after an 82-56 win at last-place Fordham on Wednesday.
“I think our guys, especially the older players, understand we were playing for much more than a game against Fordham,” Mack said. “We came in knowing we had two games left for a conference championship. I don’t think it was very hard to motivate them knowing that they were 80 minutes, now 40, from a fourth straight championship.”
A big reason for Xavier’s continued dominance has been the team’s consistency at home. The Musketeers are 14-0 at the Cintas Center, winning by an average of 21.9 points, and they’ve won 31 straight home games in Atlantic 10 play.
Leading scorer Jordan Crawford has enjoyed an easy transition to the conference. While Crawford had an off night against Fordham, shooting 3 of 10 from the field and scoring 11 points, the sophomore transfer from Indiana is still averaging 20.1 points in conference play.
The Musketeers showed Wednesday that they could still employ the balanced attack that prevailed under Miller, as four players scored in double figures and seven had at least seven points in the lopsided victory.
“Every game is an important one,” point guard Terrell Holloway said. “We know our goal is to go out and win the Atlantic 10 championship and we won’t rest for one game or even one practice. We come into every game with the same mindset: that it’s important to win.”
St. Bonaventure has not won at Xavier since the teams became conference rivals in 1995, losing eight straight visits dating back to a 68-63 win Feb. 14, 1973. The Bonnies have also lost eight straight overall to the Musketeers, all by double digits.
But Xavier will encounter an improved St. Bonaventure team, which has a chance to avoid a losing record in Atlantic 10 play for the first time since the 2001-02 season.
The Bonnies (14-14, 7-8) will also be looking for their first five-game winning streak since that season. They’ve averaged more than 80 points while shooting 49.6 percent during the four-game run.
Andrew Nicholson and Chris Matthews each had 21 points in a 92-80 win over Duquesne on Wednesday, with Matthews hitting 6 of 10 from 3-point range. Matthews was 3 of 12 from the field in an 84-64 loss to Xavier on Jan. 21, 2009.
This will be the final home game for Xavier’s lone senior, forward Jason Love, who is averaging 11.8 points and a team-high 8.6 rebounds.
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