Making the Run, Part Three

It's hero time for Semaj and his Xavier teammates. - USA TODAY Sports

It takes a special set of circumstances for a team to go from not receiving a bye to winning the conference tournament. They have to be bad enough to not finish in the top four, but good enough to rip off four wins in four games. How often does that happen? So glad you asked.

If you spent the last decade in a monastery (perhaps you're the new pope; if so, congrats!) or otherwise have no clue about Xavier's historic runs in 2004 and 2006, read Brad's excellent first and second legs to this series. Everything I wrote will still be waiting for you below, and it will make a heck of a lot more sense.

In 2006, the Atlantic Ten shifted from playing in two divisions to throwing all 14 teams into the same pool and playing the regular season as a round robin plus part of a second time through. As a result, the conference tournament no longer pitted teams from opposing divisions against one another, as those distinctions had been eliminated. Instead, the top four teams in the league standings received byes, the next eight squared off in the first round, and anyone finishing worse than 12th was invited to get an early start on recruiting.

Though there have been a couple of different formats - including the short-lived but confusingly entertaining campus-site games - the task for the teams that don't get first-round byes has always been the same: win four consecutive games or miss the NCAA tournament. It is up against that same wall that the Muskies find themselves this year. What I'm going to do here is take a look at the 2007-2012 conference tournaments (Brad already covered the 2006 tourney) to get a feel for the performances of the teams that found themselves facing the task of winning four straight games, what their records were in each subsequent round (they always went 4-4 in the first round, obviously), and if history offers any hope for X this season.

2007

In 2007, Fordham, St. Joseph's, Saint Louis, and Dayton captured the 5-8 seeds in the conference tournament, and all of them defeated their lower-ranked foes in the first round. In the quarterfinals, Xavier and GW handled business over UD and St. Joe's, respectively, and URI squeaked by Fordham. Saint Lou played second seeded UMass and beat them by three in OT behind 21 from Ian Vouyoukas and a game-icing steal from Tommie Liddell, who had 24 on the night. They then turned around and lost by 20 to GW the next night, ending their Cinderella run two wins shy of pay dirt.

Underdog record: 1-3 in quarterfinals, 0-1 in semifinals, 0-0 in finals

2008

St. Joseph's, Charlotte, La Salle, and Dayton were the top seeded teams to not grab a bye in 2008, and the all won their first games. St. Joe's spanked Fordham, but the other three teams won by a combined margin of six points. You might think that sort of performance would bode ill for them in the next round, but two of those teams actually won in the quarterfinals as well. The delightfully named Leemire Goldwire poured home 24 and Charlie Coley went for 14 and 17 as Charlotte toppled UMass, and St. Joe's used a dominant performance on the boards to glide past Richmond by 14. It ended in tears the next night for Charlotte, as Goldwire shot 5-18 from the floor in a loss to Temple, but the Hawks beat Xavier by 8 thanks in part to 24 and 8 from the loathsome Pat Calathes. The final was a bridge too far for St. Joe's as tournament MOP Dionte Christmas lit them up for 22 and Temple won by five.

Underdog record: 2-2 in quarterfinals, 1-1 in semifinals, 0-1 in finals

2009

Saint Louis becomes the first 9-12 seed to pick up a win in our little study, beating La Salle 62-60 in the 8/9 game. St Joe's, Richmond, and Duquesne picked up the 5-7 seeds and easily defeated the foes set before them in the first round. The quarterfinals saw the 1 (Xavier), 3 (Dayton), and 4 (Temple) all progress with varying levels of fuss, but Duquesne shot 53% from the floor and got 19 and 13 from Bill Clark to knock off URI despite allowing an OReb% of 60%. They replicated the trick a night later to beat Dayton, again shooting 53% but allowing a more modest 41% OReb% and getting 24 each from Melquan Bolding and Aaron Jackson. For the second year in a row, Temple crushed the dreams of an underdog in the final, this time riding 29 from Dionte Christmas to a five-point victory.

Underdog record: 1-3 in quarterfinals, 1-0 in semifinals, 0-1 in finals

2010

First round chalk once again went 3-1 this year, with Charlotte taking the fall to eleven seed UMass in gruesome 59-56 affair that featured 75 missed shots. UMass capitalized on that momentum to play Richmond tough in the quarterfinals, but five seed URI was the only team to score a (nominal) upset. They knocked off Saint Louis by holding the Billikens to 19 in the first half and 47 in the entire game. Once again, though, it was Temple that would take home the conference tournament crown. The Owls beat URI by 13 and then Richmond by 4 to capture their third straight A-10 tourney title.

Underdog record: 1-3 in quarterfinals, 0-1 in semifinals, 0-0 in finals

2011

Only six seed URI escaped the first round as the higher rated team in 2011. Andrew Nicholson went for 30 and 13 for the Bonnies, but his team let him down in an OT loss to La Salle. St. Joe's mopped the floor with five seed GW, and Dayton clobbered UMass in the 8/9 game thanks to the Minutemen shooting 18-64 from the floor. Temple fed it to La Salle with Ramone Moore's 23 leading five Owls who scored 14 or more. It took OT, but Carl Jones' 28 and 7 on only 13 shots led St. Joe's past Duquesne and set up the only underdog v. underdog semifinal we'll see in this article, thanks to Dayton beating Xavier on this foolishness. St. Joe's had the ball down three with six seconds left but failed to get a shot off, and Dayton advanced to the final, where they got baked by the Richmond Spiders.

Underdog record: 2-2 in quarterfinals, 1-1 in semifinals, 0-1 in finals

2012

Ah, last year. Sanity was restored, with the higher seeded team winning every first round game. I know it's not the biggest problem in the world, but I hate it when Temple wins the tournament and it warmed the cockles of my heart to see Chaz Williams and Jesse Morgan combine for 41 on just 25 shots to take UMass past the Owls and into the semifinals. UMass was game for the Bonnies, but those same two players combined to shoot 6-18 from the floor and watch Andrew Nicholson and Demetrius Conger combine for 41 on just 19 shots to propel St. Bonaventure to a four-point win.

Underdog record: 1-3 in quarterfinals, 0-1 in semifinals, 0-0 in finals


What we've really shown here, I suspect, is not all that mind-blowing: history shows that the teams playing in tomorrow's first-round games are not likely to end up cutting down the nets on Sunday. You don't miss out on a bye due to your surpassing basketball excellence, and everyone you play from Friday on out is likely to be both better and more fresh than your team.

History is on Xavier's side in escaping the first round, though. In the 24 first-round games covered here, 19 have been won by the higher-seeded team, and 2 of the upsets have been in the 8/9 game. After that, at least one team between 5 and 12 each year has managed to win again, going 8-16 in quarterfinal games. A third win was on the docket from 3 of the 8 teams in question; I'd take a 37.5% of chance of Xavier making the final right now. The final itself has been unkind, though. Of those three teams in the last six years to escape the first round and make it all the way to the final, none of them has won.

The last team to win three straight games to make the final and then pick up that all important fourth win, as you well know, was Xavier in 2006. The team before them to do so was also Xavier, in 2004. Other than those two teams, you can go all the way back to 1994 - the year in which the Atlantic Ten first had enough teams to necessitate adding a round of games before the quarterfinals - and not find another team to win four straight games to claim the automatic bid. History doesn't dictate that the task in front of Xavier this year is impossible, but it does show that it is extremely difficult to pull off.

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