It had been 14 years since Xavier had dealt with a losing season, and 16 years since Skip Prosser hadn't been associated with a winner, but the coach and the Musketeers' fans weren't troubled after the little Jesuit school in Cincinnati went 13-15 last season.
"Shockingly, I didn't hear any complaints after last season," Prosser said. "The fact that everyone understood it was an aberration had something to do with that. Everyone could see that the whole season was an adjustment for us."
The changes -- to a new lineup and a new conference -- are well behind No. 16 Xavier, which will try to maintain its slim lead in the Atlantic 10's West Division at George Washington tonight at 8 (HTS).
The Colonials (8-6, 3-2) have been a disappointment, but the Musketeers (12-2, 3-1) have been one of the nation's biggest surprises. After a 10-0 start, they lost two of three, but Sunday's overtime win over Temple allowed Xavier to maintain its status as the only Top 25 team in the Atlantic 10.
Even though Xavier was the top-scoring team in the nation when it lost to Tulane, the Musketeers had trouble running the court with the Green Wave. Three days later, they beat plodding Temple, another example of Prosser's ability to thrive while making changes.
After seven years as an assistant to Pete Gillen at Xavier, Prosser left in 1993 to take over the downtrodden program at Loyola. Prosser guided the Greyhounds to their first and only appearance in the NCAA tournament in 1994, but two weeks later he was back at Xavier as the replacement when Gillen went to Providence.
The Musketeers went 23-5 in their first season under Prosser, but then came all those adjustments last season.
Prosser started three freshmen and a sophomore, and it wasn't the most opportune time to move from the Midwestern Collegiate Conference to the Atlantic 10, which enjoyed its best season ever, producing a Final Four team (Massachusetts) among its four NCAA tournament berths. Xavier's losing record was the first he had experienced since 1980, when he was a prep coach in Wheeling, W.Va.
More was expected of Xavier this season, but did anyone forecast that the Musketeers would beat preseason No. 1 Cincinnati in November and climb as high as No. 12, their highest ranking since 1958?
"Our players understand that the people who make predictions have no clue," Prosser said. "They also are the same people praising us now, and in the interim they haven't gone to the Dalai Lama and gotten wisdom. We haven't proven anything yet."
Torraye Braggs, a 6-foot-8 junior-college transfer from California, has been one of the nation's most impressive newcomers, but Xavier's high-pressure game starts in the backcourt. Lenny Brown and Gary Lumpkin, sophomores and teammates since junior high in Wilmington, Del., have combined to make 41.6 percent of their three-pointers.
There's no shortage of fine sophomore point guards in the nation, and George Washington's Shawnta Rogers, the 5-4 marvel out of Lake Clifton, was among those who had a higher preseason profile than Lumpkin.
Sophomore Terrance Payne, a teammate of Rogers' at Lake Clifton, is a reserve forward for Xavier.
Rogers' shooting troubles (33.9 percent) have been offset by his knack for getting the ball. He had 14 rebounds at Dayton on Saturday, the conference high this season.
Before that win, GW had lost four of six. It held St. Joseph's to one field goal over 18 minutes, and still lost. Center Alexander Koul, a 7-1 junior, hasn't been as dominant as expected, and coach Mike Jarvis still laments not having Patrick Ngongba, a freshman forward from Calvert Hall who, as an NCAA partial qualifier, is academically ineligible this year.
Pub Date: 1/23/97