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Midwest Hoops Report

   by ASA - 03/08/2006

Xavier: Barring anything spectacular from Charlotte in the Atlantic-10 tournament, this league is only going to get one berth in the NCAA Tournament. And it certainly won’t be Xavier, who split two road games last week at Dayton and at Rhode Island and got at home by St. Joseph’s Tuesday. That leaves the Musketeers at 8-7 in the A-10 and 17-9 overall. Xavier no doubt suffered a huge blow when leading scorer Brian Thornton went down in the loss to La Salle Feb. 11 with an ankle injury, ultimately needing season ending surgery. Xavier has managed a 2-3 record both straight up and against the spread since its leading scorer and second-leading rebounder was sidelined. Not bad, but head coach Sean Miller admits that his team just isn’t the same without Thornton and what’s worse is opponents are adjusting to the new Musketeers. Since Thornton went down, Xavier has gotten killed on the glass. After outrebounding its opponents in its first two games without Thornton, Xavier has lost the battle on the boards in its last two. Dayton set the tone last Tuesday with 16 offensive boards against a lineup topping out at 6-foot-7, and Rhode Island followed suit on Saturday with 15 offensive boards. And those new Musketeers just got a little different last week when it was announced senior guard Dedrick Finn was dismissed from Xavier's team on an unspecified rules violation. Finn had five points in the Musketeers' 66-62 loss at Dayton on Tuesday night. Finn started the last 53 games and was averaging 5.0 points and 4.0 assists this season. “Throughout his career, we have tried to connect with Dedrick to continue to develop him as a person and have pursued numerous channels to see this through,â€쳌 Miller said. “Dedrick has been made well aware of the importance of following rules and guidelines that all team members must abide by.â€쳌 Finn averaged five points and four assists per game in 25 games for the Musketeers this season. Finn was suspended for Xavier's first exhibition game this season after he was charged with stealing his former girlfriend's dog. A misdemeanor theft charge was dismissed last month after the former girlfriend decided not to pursue the case. Xavier, 17-8 SU, 10-12 ATS, closes out its regular season, and perhaps their entire season, when they visit Massachusetts Saturday.

Ball State: The Cardinals have had a miserable year, sitting at 5-11 in the Mid American Conference West standings. While they have remained competitive most of the season, losing their last three conference games by a total of 11 points before being blasted by Toledo by 27 points last Sunday, they have suffered some turmoil off the court. It was announced last Thursday that backup center Tom Howland was dismissed form the team. Howland averaged only 1.8 points and 2.1 rebounds in 18 games this season. Howland missed three games in December and three in January before being dismissed for good, and thus averaged just over 9 minutes per game this season. Ball State, 9-16 SU, 8-13-1 ATS, concludes their season Saturday and Eastern Michigan.

Creighton: The Bluejays appear headed for the NCAA Tournament, most likely around the neighborhood of a 10-seed. Their 12-6 record in the Missouri Valley Conference and 19-8 overall record is certainly good enough to earn a berth, but their loss to Missouri State Saturday didn’t help their cause, especially considering they face a red-hot Bradley team in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament on Friday. Creighton split two meetings with the Braves this season, with each team winning on their home floor. With an RPI of 32 and strength of schedule rank of 58, they may be good to go either way. But a win over Bradley would make a Tournament berth a certainty. Starting PG Josh Dotzler went out with a knee injury a few weeks ago and has missed four games. The Blue Jays do not expect him back for the MVC Tourney.

Missouri State: The Bears’ win over Creighton last week earned them the No. 3 seed in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament, and a possible quarterfinal date with a suddenly desperate Northern Iowa team that was ranked in the top-25 just three weeks ago. It is a game that could very well end up costing the loser a berth in the NCAA Tournament, but the Bears, with a RPI of 20 and a strength of schedule of 40, seem more equipped to handle a loss. Winning eight of their last nine games puts Missouri State in that position. The Bears were led this season by junior guard Blake Ahearn’s 17.3 points and nearly three assists per game. The problem for the Bears is that no other player on the roster averaged in double figures, as they had five averaging just over eight points per game. Missouri State will face Northern Iowa in that aforementioned MVC quarterfinal on Friday. Missouri State and Northern Iowa split two meetings this season, with each team winning on the road.

Southern Illinois: The Salukis put themselves in an ideal position to earn a berth in the Big Dance with their thrilling last-second win over Northern Iowa last weekend. Not only did junior Tony Young’s runner with seven seconds left earn the Salukis a win on the final day of Missouri Valley Conference play, but the dramatic win also snapped a four-game losing streak, and, instead of entering the MVC tourney as a three or four seed, they earned the No. 2 seed. The Salukis’ 42 RPI and 66 strength of schedule rank probably won’t be enough to get them into the Tournament, but a semifinal appearance in the MVC tourney could get them in.

Cincinnati: The Bearcats need some help as they enter the final weekend of Big East play. Lucky for them, have a chance to conceivably get themselves in without worrying about the Big East tournament when they host No. 18 West Virginia in an enormous bubble game. The Bearcats certainly lost huge ground with their loss at Seton Hall Tuesday. But a win over the Mountaineers would ease the pain of the potentially crippling loss at Seton Hall. The Bearcats would love to get to .500 in league play, which in the Big East is considerably good. Their RPI of 27 and strength of schedule rank of 6 make them hard to ignore, but the fact that Cincinnati is 3-7 versus the RPI Top-50 and 8-2 versus the RPI 51-100 makes their inclusion in the Tournament fishy to some. Cincinnati, 18-10 SU, 9-15-1 ATS, hosts West Virginia Saturday.

Nebraska: The Cornhuskers remain in serious bubble trouble as we head into the final weekend of the Big 12 season. The Big 12 figures to get only four teams, maybe only three, into the Dance, which leaves Nebraska out. They find themselves in danger of falling into the NIT bracket after their loss at Texas A&M last Saturday, a game that dropped them to 7-7 and definitively behind A&M and Colorado (two other Big 12 bubble teams) in a league that ranks as fourth toughest in the country. Nebraska’s loss to Kansas State Wednesday certainly won’t help matters, either, leaving the Huskers no outs but the Big 12 tourney. But at this point they look like a team headed for the NIT. Nebraska, 17-10 SU, 9-12 ATS, is at Missouri Sunday.

Colorado: Speaking of Colorado, they look to be one of the first two teams on the bubble to make it to the NCAA Tournament after their blowout loss at Kansas on Wednesday dropped the Buffs to 8-7 in the Big 12 and a game behind Texas A&M. The Aggies may have jumped over Colorado with their win over No. 7 Texas Wednesday. The Buffs RPI (48) and SOS (112) are hardly impressive. But a win over Iowa State in the home finale and a win in the first round of the Big 12 tournament and this team likely gets and at-large berth into the dance.

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