Turnaround season has Xavier back in NAIA Tournament

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New Orleans -- Xavier University of Louisiana's men's basketball team is no stranger to the post-season. In fact, they've made it to the NAIA Division I National Tournament 11 times in the past 14 seasons. But after missing it last year and finishing (10-20), the Gold Rush have done a complete 180.

"I think the guys changed," said Xavier junior guard Jeff Dixon, who leads the nation in NAIA in total assists (188) and assists per game (5.9). "They're trusting in the process that coach is preaching every day in practice and in the off-season. I just think the guys that we've got this year were really just trusting the process."

The Gold Rush received an at-large bid to the NAIA tournament, as the GCAC regular season co-champions, with an overall record of (24-8). That's 14 more wins than they had last season, and 12 fewer losses.

"We were pretty confident we were going to make it," Dixon said. "We've been a good team all year and we've been having a successful season."

"It's a blessing to be able to play for a national tournament at any level," said Xavier senior forward Joseph Williams, who is also representing Xavier in the NAIA Dunk Contest. "We have a great coaching staff. They put in a lot of work, a lot of time and effort preparing us for these games."

"We're going back there this year off of hard work," said Xavier assistant coach Tyrone Mitchell. "We tell those guys, do not take this for granted because you don't get this every year. This is a very special moment for you guys-- especially the seniors."

Now that Xavier has made it back to the national tournament, the next hurdle is making it past the first round-- something they haven't done since 2007. Xavier has lost their opening game in their last 8 appearances.

"Yes, we have all the tools to make it past the first round," Williams said. "It's just paying attention to details and just going out and playing hard."

"That's one thing that we always emphasize or stress to our guys is you have to want more." Mitchell said. "You have to want to be better and that's getting past that first round. We don't think that's where the bar is set, but unfortunately in the past that's what it was. Coach Williams is telling these guys, look we can do this. We can get to the final four. We can be there until Sunday. We can go to the championship game. He's giving those guys a vision and I think they're buying into it. I really think this year will be a special year. I think if we get past this first game we'll be all right."

"All of us feel like we were built for March," Dixon said. "That's what we said all year-- that we wanted to make it to March and show what we really could do."

Ahead of the Gold Rush is Oklahoma City, who similarly received an at-large bid as the Sooner Athletic Conference regular season co-champions. The game tips-off Wednesday, March 14 at 3:00 p.m. at Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City, Missouri.