NEW YORK - The Xavier University men's basketball team enters the 2013 Atlantic 10 Tournament in unfamiliar territory.
After a 17-13 regular season and a seventh-place finish in the A-10, the Musketeers find themselves on the verge of missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2005.
ESPN's resident bracketologist Joe Lunardi listed the Muskies on "Bubble Watch" heading into the final week of the season, after a pair of wins against No. 19 Memphis and No. 16 St. Louis, as well as a strong showing in a losing effort to No. 25 Virginia Commonwealth. But a disappointing road loss to Butler in the regular-season finale, their fourth loss in seven games, put Xavier on the outside looking in as tournament time approaches.
As of Thursday morning, three A-10 teams are likely to receive tournament invites. The list of "locks," according to Lunardi, includes regular-season champion Saint Louis, Butler and VCU. Temple is listed as likely to get a bid and La Salle falls in the "Work left to do" category.
Musketeer fans have been blessed with a recent stretch of success that includes NCAA Tournament appearances in 11 of the past 12 seasons, including two trips to the Elite Eight.
Recently, Xavier has had a run of success that has culminated in four trips to the Sweet 16 in the past five seasons. XU is one of only four teams in the country to accomplish that feat.
Past success doesn't mean much in college sports. It's a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world and to this point the Musketeers haven't done enough to merit legitimate consideration for an at-large berth to the tournament.
Xavier's only chance of hearing its name called by Greg Gumble on Selection Sunday is to win the conference tournament, which is being held this weekend, March 14-17, at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Since joining the league in 1996, the Muskies have won four A-10 tournament titles, including three in five years between 2002 and 2006 ('02, '04, '06).
However, this year won't be a cake walk for the men in blue. Xavier will have to win four games in four days to claim the title.
Winning four games against four top teams in four days is a daunting task and has only been done twice in the history of the Atlantic 10 Tournament. Luckily for fans of the Musketeers, Xavier accomplished the feat both times.
XU became the first team in A-10 history to accomplish the four-in-four task in 2004 as a four seed. Xavier upset top-seeded St. Joseph's during that run.
It managed to complete the arduous undertaking again in 2006 as the No. 10 seed.
That 2006 team was in a similar situation to this year's team. Without claiming the conference tournament, Xavier stood no chance of making the NCAA Tournament. Knowing that, the Muskies went through Massachusetts (75-66), Charlotte (59-55), Fordham (70-59) and Saint Joseph's (62-61) in front of the home crowd at U.S. Bank Arena in Cincinnati.
This year the Musketeers aren't likely to catch many breaks in the bracket and won't have hometown support to carry them through rough stretches. They will also likely face three NCAA Tournament-bound squads en route to the championship.
After opening with 10th-seeded St. Joseph's Thursday night, Xavier would play a rested VCU squad that earned a bye in the first round by finishing second in the league during the regular season. Assuming tournament seeding holds, the Musketeers would then play No. 3 Temple and then either top-seeded St. Louis, No. 5 Butler or a fourth-seeded La Salle team that is also fighting for its postseason life.
A championship this year would be Xavier's first since its miraculous run in 2006, which may cause some fans to doubt whether this squad is configured to end the streak.
But by winning at least a share of the regular-season crown five straight seasons between 2007-11, the Musketeers had more or less assured themselves of a trip to the Big Dance prior to the A-10 Tournament, and pressure to win in the mid-March event wasn't as important as playing well, staying healthy and getting rest.
Regardless of the circumstances, Xavier seniors Jeff Robinson, Travis Taylor and Brad Redford won't be holding anything back because unless they win, there won't be a "tomorrow" for them.
The Musketeers will tip off play in their final Atlantic 10 tournament against St. Joseph's Thursday at 6:30 p.m.
WCPO Digital web editor Casey Weldon is on-scene at the Atlantic 10 Tournament in Brooklyn and will continue to post updates about all the action.
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