Hawks still are a No. 1

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo! Sports

DAYTON, Ohio – Well, so much for that.

In a high-noon shocker, Xavier pummeled top-ranked Saint Joseph's 87-67 here in the first round of the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament. The loss ended the Hawks' 27-game winning streak, dashed hopes of a perfect season and fueled every critic who considers the small Philadelphia school unworthy of a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

"Not me," said Xavier guard Lionel Chalmers, who scorched the Hawks for 23 points. "They're a great team. They didn't go 27-0 for no reason. I really think they are one of the best teams in the country."

Here's hoping everyone – particularly the NCAA selection committee – remembers that. Over the next 72 hours the airwaves will be full of chatter about how Xavier exposed St. Joe's as an over-hyped product of a weak league.

Forget it.

No question St. Joe's looked like St. Bonaventure on Thursday – the Hawks never led and at one point were trailing by 37 – but this team emphatically deserves the No. 1 seed in the East.

"I'm assuming the television wherever the committee is meeting didn't work," smiled Hawks coach Phil Martelli. "They probably won't even know.

"We can't do anything about it. We had our opportunity to speak on the floor, and we got an ass whipping. The committee will do us right because of our body of work, not 40 minutes."

Two main things stand out about this game.

First, if Xavier is the fourth best team in the A-10 West (as it was seeded), then this league ought to try moving into the NBA Western Conference next season.

The Musketeers (21-10) have won 11 of 12, shot a preposterous 71.1 percent for the game and have two players (Romain Sato, Chalmers) who will play professionally next year.

"I don't think we could have played any better," Xavier coach Thad Matta said.

If the Musketeers play like this they beat anybody in the country. Anybody. St. Joe's really had no chance and while the focus understandably will be on what St. Joe's didn't do, it should be on what Xavier did.

The scary thing is that the Xavier coaching staff isn't even positive they are in the NCAA tournament yet. Are you kidding me? If the Musketeers don't hear their name called Sunday there should be a federal investigation.

Second, the way the Hawks handled the devastation both during and after the game speaks not of a program in panic or an emperor exposed but of a still confident group that just had a nightmare game on a dreary day in Dayton.

Nothing more, nothing less.

"We just got beat," Martelli said. "To me it's no deeper than that."

No question St. Joe's (27-1) was terrible. It couldn't score or defend, two fairly important factors in winning basketball games. It played its worst game in two years.

"[This was] the first time in 60 games we've got our ass kicked," Martelli said.

But there was no finger pointing. No pouting. No giving up. St. Joe's played admirably hard until the very bitter end. Then after the game, the players took the defeat like men. The school's motto – "The Hawk will never die"– was as much in effect Thursday as in any glorious victory preceding it.

Besides, perhaps, as some argue, this is just what the doctor ordered for the Hawks. While Martelli says three of his team' best practices came this week and his players were not letting all of the success and attention go their head, some refocusing and re-energizing can't hurt.

"I think it was better for them to lose, get the loss out of the way," Chalmers said.

That is how the Hawks are taking it. Likely national player of the year Jameer Nelson spoke of how "every loss is devastating." Backcourt mate Delonte West turned the focus on to "the next challenge."

The locker room was somber and thoughtful. If in any way Martelli needed to get his team's attention, he has it.

Now it is up to St. Joe's to decide what to do with it.

"This feeling is not a pleasant feeling," Martelli said. "And one we would not like to feel again. The next time we have the feeling we have right now, they collect the uniforms and that's it."

This game meant nothing. Each one from here on out means everything.

"We will be and must be a desperate team," Martelli said.

And they'll still be a good one. Just not a perfect one.

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