CINCINNATI (AP) -The only time that Xavier coach Sean Miller mentions his record-setting days as Pittsburgh's point guard is when he's getting on his inexperienced guards to pass the ball more.
How good was he?
``He had 746 assists or something like that?'' sophomore guard Dante Jackson said Monday, turning toward teammate C.J. Anderson for clarification.
``I don't know how many it is,'' the senior forward responded.
Off by two. Miller had 744 assists for Pittsburgh from 1987-92, a school record until Brandin Knight topped it a decade later. He was big stuff in those days, a Pennsylvania boy who became Pittsburgh's steadying force on offense. Now, those Panthers are in his way.
reach the Elite Eight for the third time in six years. The Musketeers have to beat No. 1 seed Pittsburgh on Thursday in Boston to get there.
Quite a reunion, huh?
``Pitt holds a special place for me,'' Miller said Monday. ``I had a great experience as a student-athlete there. I was treated like you want to be treated. The friendships I have today, so many of my close friends really stem from that 4- or 5-year experience there.
``And it really stops there. In terms of this NCAA tournament, the focus is really on our players and on our team. To be back in the Sweet 16 in consecutive years, that's where the focus should be.''
No worry there. Xavier has become one of the programs - along with Gonzaga - that small schools look to emulate so they can become one of the big boys in basketball. The Musketeers have won three straight Atlantic 10 regular-season titles, reached the NCAA tournament six straight years, and advanced to the round of 16 for the third time in that span.
In the 1980s, Xavier was one of those mid-major programs that's just happy to make the tournament occasionally. The Musketeers reached the round of 16 for the first time in 1990 under coach Pete Gillen, who got the program headed to where it is now.
ue titles, reach the tournament and make a deep run. That's the reason for the envy that seems to be going around.
``I think honestly our goal is to be a Gonzaga or a Xavier,'' Siena coach Fran McCaffery said, before his team lost to Louisville in the second round in Dayton on Sunday. ``We have made steps in that direction, but I don't think we have accomplished as much over the same length of time. You're talking about programs that are over 10 years - and in Xavier's case, almost 15 years - they've been successful in their conferences.''
How did Xavier pull it off? The small Jesuit school made a financial commitment to the program, picked the right coaches and attracted the caliber of player it needed to compete at a high level. Its state-of-the-art Cintas Center opened in 2000 and became a recruiting tool. An impressive line of coaches - Gillen, Skip Prosser, Thad Matta and Miller - has steadily elevated the program.
David West won the national player of the year award in 2003, giving the program a high profile nationally. The Musketeers reached the Elite Eight for the first time a year later, bringing greater expectations.
ier has to our program across the board. I don't know if that's necessarily understood.''
Xavier raised the ante this season by putting together its toughest nonconference schedule. The Musketeers beat Missouri, Virginia Tech and Memphis at the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, won at Cincinnati, Virginia and Louisiana State, and lost to Duke in East Rutherford, N.J. They also beat Auburn at the Cintas Center and lost to Butler there.
All those games against top teams in tough places have prepared the Musketeers for another NCAA tournament run that lasts for more than one weekend.
``When they sign up to come here, they sign up to have moments like this,'' Miller said. ``It's very fulfilling. We have so many guys who have been in big games. It's one of the reasons we've been able to advance this year. I think it's a strength of our team.''
The foundation is set for the run to continue beyond this season. The Musketeers lose only two players - Anderson and B.J. Raymond - and their freshman-laden bench will be much further along next season. The next step is to reach a Final Four, something they have a chance to do this week in Boston.
``We just look at it as a great opportunity to make another big stamp on our season, and make another stamp for our program,'' Anderson said.

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