WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The NCAA Tournament gets under way in about a half hour here at the Verizon Center, when Xavier takes on Georgia in a first-round game.
I can't imagine Xavier is too happy with this matchup. The Musketeers went 14-2 in the Atlantic 10. They're ranked 12th in the country in both polls. And their reward is a game against the SEC tourney champions. Yes, Georgia had a losing record in the regular season. But any team that can win three games in two days in one of the top leagues in America -- as Georgia did after the tornado scrambled the SEC tourney last weeked -- is better than a typical No. 14 seed.
Xavier has the toughest test of any No. 3 seed in the first round. They're an eight-point underdog. The other three 3's are all favored by double digits. What a coincidence. The other three third seeds -- Stanford, Wisconsin and Louisville -- are all from major conferences. Somehow, I doubt the committee would have had a BCS school play the SEC champ as a No. 3 seed.
No team hates the "mid-major" label more than Xavier. The Musketeers even refused one of those mid-major player of the week awards early this season (Drew Lavender won it), because they consider themselves a major program. They're right. Xavier has been to seven of the last eight tournaments. They made the Elite Eight in 2004. They lost in overtime in the second round last year to Ohio State, which went on to the national championship game against Florida.
Xavier is a big-time program and determined to prove it. They're also carrying the banner of the A-10, which used to put four and five teams in the Big Dance on a regular basis but has been sliding in recent years. The A-10 got three teams in this year (St. Joseph's and Temple are the others), but had two of the better teams that missed out (UMass and Dayton).
It's been easy to forget since St. Bonaventure hit the skids, but the A-10 is our biggest link to the basketball big-time. Bona is a Western New york school. Syracuse has the Niagara Falls kids, but they're just not close enough. So it's good for Bona when the A-10 does well, and it raises the stakes. When you have three teams in the NCAA Tournament, it should be a good recruiting tool. Bona needs to raise the level of its program soon. There's no excuse to be this bad in the A-10. Look what happened to Baylor.They had a bigger scandal than Bona in 2003, and they've bounced back in a hurry.