Xavier, Temple battle for top spot in Atlantic 10

By Matt Catizone

(MCT)

A desire to be the top seed in the Atlantic 10 tournament has pushed the Xavier and Temple women’s basketball programs this season. There is no clear-cut No. 1 yet, though, as both teams boast an 11-0 record.

That will change Feb. 27, when No. 6 Xavier (21-2, 10-0 A-10) visits Temple (19-6, 10-0 A-10). The final game of the regular season for both squads will certainly prove to be the most vital. Assuming both teams remain undefeated in their final three conference games, the top ranking will go to the winner.

Xavier and Temple have faced each other in two of the last three A-10 Tournament finals. Last season, the Musketeers proved they were the best team in the conference by defeating the Owls, 57-55. Three years ago, Xavier again got the best of the Owls, this time winning as the third seed, 47-42.

Both teams have been playing solid basketball recently, which places more emphasis on this matchup. Coming into Tuesday, the Owls have won 12 consecutive games and 17 of 19. Not to be outdone, Xavier has won 12 straight. The Musketeers’ only two losses of the season came in the same week, when they fell to two top 10 teams in Duke and Stanford.

In order for both teams to remain undefeated until the season finale, they will have to defeat some formidable opponents. The Musketeers’ toughest foe is Duquesne. The Dukes (20-5, 7-3 A-10), currently sit in fourth place in the A-10, three games out of first. The Owls’ toughest challenge will be Dayton. The Flyers (16-9, 7-4 A-10) have played well against the top teams all season, beating a ranked Boston College team and  nearly winning two games against Xavier.

While being the top seed is always nice, it does not necessarily mean either squad will win the tournament. Just ask the Musketeers. While they won the conference postseason title last year, they failed to do so two years ago. Coming off a bye round and facing eighth seeded Dayton, Xavier dropped the contest, 63-60.

No matter how the remainder of the season plays out in the A-10, nothing truly is decided for the top 12 teams, which will qualify for the tournament, until the tournament is all said and done.

Rhode Island looking to sneak in

One could certainly say Rhode Island has not had the 2010-11 season it hoped for.

Coming into Wednesday, the Rams sat at 1-9 in the A-10 and 7-17 overall. However, they still have a chance to qualify for the A-10 tournament. On Wednesday, URI will face Fordham, (10-16, 2-8 A-10) which currently sits one game ahead of URI in the conference. A Rhode Island victory would ultimately place them ahead of Fordham because of their head-to-head advantage.

A win Saturday at Massachusetts will also help secure a spot for URI. UMass (6-20, 2-9 A-10) sits a half-game ahead of the Rams in the conference standings and has not won since Jan. 19 against Saint Louis.

Third seed a charm

Is it possible that the best seed to get in the upcoming A-10 Tournament is third?

As odd as it may seem, third seeded teams have been making some noise in the Tournament in years past. Over the last four years, the team seeded third has made it to the final, winning all but last year.

Potential logic behind this trend could be hold that the three-seed has a lack of pressure placed on it. As a third seed, a team receives a first round bye and enters the tournament either facing the sixth or 11th seed. Usually, neither of these teams are as deep and potent as the third seed. Beyond this point, though, the third seed is usually the underdog.

Currently the third team in the conference is Charlotte. As of Tuesday, the 49ers are 8-2 in the conference and 20-5 overall. They have four remaining games, the hardest of which will come from the team directly below them, Duquesne.

In what seems like the best seeding in the A-10 tournament, third is certainly looking like the new first come mid-March.

Matt Catizone can be reached at [email protected]