March 11, 2004
There are no unblemished teams left in college basketball now that Xavier has beaten Saint Joseph's 87-67 in the Atlantic 10 tournament quarterfinals.
The Hawks (27-1) had a phenomenal regular season, finishing 27-0 and No. 1 in the polls. It was a brilliant season for coach Phil Martelli and his gang. It's just sad for them the way they lost Thursday.
Saint Joseph's just didn't compete against Xavier. The Hawks were never in the game. As Martelli said, they got an "ass-whipping" -- there's no doubt about it. With 7:56 left to play, Xavier led 74-37, doubling St. Joe's on the scoreboard. Xavier played with passion and feeling.
Senior forward Anthony Myles and senior guard Lionel Chalmers were sensational for Xavier. Coach Thad Matta's Musketeers have now won 10 of 11 games. In my mind, they've locked up an NCAA Tournament berth.
In my mind, Xavier has locked up an NCAA Tournament berth.
I believe that this loss could cost the Hawks a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. There are too many quality teams lurking behind them that can make a case for a No. 1: Mississippi State (only two losses), Pittsburgh (three losses in the tough Big East), Oklahoma State (three losses), Kentucky (four losses in the tough SEC).
To lose a conference tournament game by a close margin, in a Maalox Masher, is one thing. But when you're humiliated, as St. Joe's was vs. Xavier, it's another thing. The way St. Joe's lost probably will be a factor in terms of their chances for a No. 1 seed.
In my early version of the NCAA tourney field, my four No. 1 seeds right now are Pittsburgh, Duke, Kentucky and Stanford (St. Joe's was No. 1 instead of Pittsburgh until the Xavier loss). The bottom line is that there isn't much difference between being a No. 1 or a No. 2, besides the prestige.
So the Hawks need to regroup now and get ready for March Madness. In the tournament, they need to get back to doing what they do best: make 3-pointers, defend, force turnovers and get baskets in transition. These strengths help make up for their lack of rebounding.
By the way, I've said from day one that the A-10 has been, top to bottom, much better and much more competitive than many people believe. Just look at Xavier beating Cincinnati and Richmond beating Kansas this season. A-10 commissioner Linda Bruno can smile -- her league has outstanding coaches and outstanding players.
Saint Joseph's should be proud of its accomplishment of an unbeaten regular season against such tough competition.
Dick Vitale coached the Detroit Pistons and the University of Detroit in the 1970s before broadcasting ESPN's first college basketball game in 1979 (he's been an ESPN analyst ever since). Send a question for Vitale for possible use on ESPNEWS.