Xavier a tough task for No. 10 Colonials

GW head coach Karl Hobbs and his 10th-ranked men’s basketball team knows their past performances against Xavier all too well: nine losses in the past 10 games. Zero for two last season. No wins in the Musketeers’ Cintas Center.

Despite the Colonials’ Atlantic 10 championship and a top-10 ranking for the first time in 50 years, Xavier has always been the team that got away. Thursday, the Colonials (16-1, 6-0 A-10) will try to begin the eradication of this lackluster history against the Musketeers.

Hobbs has often set the Musketeers (13-4, 4-2 A-10) as the benchmark for success in the A-10. The 2004-2005 season was the first time since 1996 that the program was not invited to a postseason event. In 2004, Xavier advanced to the Elite Eight, where they lost by three points to Duke after beating the previously unbeaten Saint Joseph’s in the A-10 championship.

“They’ve had classy kids and when you walk in their facility, you know basketball is important at that school,” Hobbs said Monday. “They’ve dominated us. They are the only program in this conference that has truly dominated us.”

This year’s version of the Musketeers is far from dominant. Xavier was on the periphery of a top-25 ranking before two untimely losses to Saint Louis at home and Temple in Philadelphia.

Thursday’s game marks the end of a two-game home stretch; the first game saw Xavier beat Dayton 60-55.

“This is a time where I think we can hopefully get back to playing our very best,” Xavier head coach Sean Miller said during the weekly A-10 coaches’ teleconference Monday. “We’ve had glimpses in the past few games.”

Despite the Musketeers’ hard times, Hobbs said he believes Xavier is still at the top of the conference.

“To me, they’re the best team in this league,” Hobbs said. “We got to go there we’ve got to play an ‘A’ game to win.”

The personnel that GW needs to combat are deep and athletic, much like the Colonials. Possibly the most feared Musketeer is sophomore Stanley Burrell. Burrell buried GW in the Smith Center last season with a buzzer-beating three-point shot. The 6-foot-3 guard averages 14.9 points per game, second-best on the team.

Brian Thornton is in his fifth year in college, after spending two seasons at Vanderbilt. Last season Thornton scorched the Colonials for a career-high 25 points on 7-for-11 shooting.

Junior Justin Doellman is averaging 10.9 points this season and is a strong force on the boards. As a 6-foot-9 forward, Doellman is a versatile force for the squad who will need to be guarded by senior Pops Mensah-Bonsu or classmate Mike Hall.

On top of strength on the court, the Colonials will have to deal with hostile surroundings. The Cintas Center, which holds 10,250 fans, is considered one of the most challenging places to play in the A-10. This season, the building averages 9,756 fans, roughly three times as many people at the Smith Center during an average game. Though the Colonials have had a tough time in Cincinnati, the last ranked team the Musketeers faced at home came out victorious. On Dec. 18, 2004, Xavier lost 80-74 to then-No. 20 Mississippi State. This season, GW is the first ranked team Xavier has faced.

GW earns highest ranking in 50 years

For the first time since Jan. 3, 1956, the GW men’s basketball team has broken into the top 10 of Division I college basketball. The Colonials are No. 10 in The Associated Press writers poll and the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll after opening up the season 16-1 and 6-0 in the Atlantic 10.

The Colonials have been ranked in both polls all season, and with placement in this week’s AP poll the program equals its longest streak in the poll – 13 straight weeks. The ranking is the highest the men’s team has had since the week of Feb. 15, 1955, when the squad was No. 7.

Hobbs, in his fifth year with the squad, said he was happy but also cautious.

“Obviously I’m excited about it, but at the same time I’m very realistic,” Hobbs said after practice Monday. “For me, it doesn’t mean a whole lot in the grand scheme of the whole season.” For the first time since Jan. 3, 1956, the GW men’s basketball team has broken into the top 10 of Division I college basketball.

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