Atlantic 10 Heating Up
Feb. 12, 2009
By Adam Kiefaber
CINCINNATI - The Xavier Musketeers were rolling toward their third straight conference regular season after starting A-10 play with a perfect 8-0 record. Local media talk suggested that XU was running away from the pack in the league. However, back-to-back road losses to Duquesne and rival Dayton have tightened up the race.
"The message I had for the team [after the loss to Dayton], which I really think is important for our basketball team, is to keep this in mind that we never felt that we were bigger than this conference," Xavier head coach Sean Miller said. "We just feel like we are one of the best teams and we are trying to win the conference."
Against Duquesne, Xavier allowed its opponent to shoot an uncanny 81 percent from the floor in the first half, which propelled the 72-68 upset. Dayton, on the other hand, used its large crowd (13,435) and defense to earn a big 71-58 win over Xavier.
"Xavier is a great program that is known for winning championships and for us to get a win in our place, it is big for our program," Dayton sophomore forward Chris Wright said.
Wright led all scorers with 19 points in the win, which snapped Xavier's six-game winning streak against Dayton (last time UD defeated Xavier was on Feb. 21, 2006). On another note, the win prolonged UD's home court winning streak to 17 straight (15-0 at home this season).
The Flyers' (22-3, 8-2 in A-10) win also put them in a tie for second place in the A-10 standings with Xavier (20-4, 8-2). Currently in first place is St. Joseph's (14-8, 7-1), who will play Temple (13-9, 5-3) tonight at 7 p.m. on ESPN2. A St. Joe's loss would move Xavier and Dayton into a tie for first.
"We had two really good teams going at it tonight and I just wanted to see where we were at because I think this can turn into something really special," Dayton head coach Brian Gregory said after the win over XU.
"We beat a very, very good team. A team that, to be honest, is underappreciated by the Cincinnati community. They don't know how good they are and how hard the stuff they have done is, which is too bad."
The respect is mutual between the two interstate rivals, who will battle again this regular season on March 5 at the Cintas Center. Xavier will have five other games before the start of the conference tournament; three being on the road and two others will be at home.
Obviously, the home contest against Dayton will be big, but so will the road contest at Saint Joseph's on Feb. 26. Both games will be on ESPN's family of networks.
"No matter what conference you are in, it is never going to be a smooth road from start to finish," Miller said.
"For us it's six games left, three at home, three on the road. We are 20-4, 8-2 and I am way more concerned with getting our defense back and being at our best on Saturday."
On Saturday, Feb. 14, Xavier will host Fordham. The game will tip-off at 4 p.m. and will be locally on Fox Sports Ohio.
The Musketeers' other remaining opponents include games at Charlotte (Feb. 19), vs. George Washington (Feb. 22) and at Richmond (March 7).
Besides Dayton and St. Joe's, Xavier's other four remaining opponents have a combined 8-28 record within the conference.
Along with Dayton, Xavier and St. Joe's, Temple, Rhode Island (17-8, 6-4), Duquesne (15-8, 6-4) and St. Louis (15-9, 6-4) have winning conference records.
"Every game is important, we are trying to win the conference championship, so are they [Dayton], so are a lot of other teams in the conference," junior forward Derrick Brown said after the loss to Dayton. "We just have to get back and rally, stay together as a team because we are good team."
New shoes: C.J. Anderson will be sporting some new kicks for the game against Fordham this Saturday. Anderson's shoes have been known to display inspirational mottos, such as, "NOPE," which is a reminder to never take a play off. In December this season, he added "Relentless Effort" and "Relentless Aggression" to his shoes after he was disappointed in his performance against Auburn. Now, after two straight losses, Anderson is planning on adding new slogans to his new pair of shoes, but for the time being those ideas are top secret.
"I can't tell you," Anderson said when asked what he has going to put on his shoes.
"You'll see them."