The question perplexed Justin Martin, Xavier's senior forward.

"Did you guys know at all that tonight was win number 18 of the season?"

Martin's answer: "Ahhh, no."

Why should Martin or his teammates have paid any special notice to their 83-64 victory against out-manned and over-matched DePaul? The Blue Demons came into the game losers of eight straight and their leading scorer had been suspended and left school since the teams last played on Jan. 20 in Chicago. Xavier did exactly what it should have done to DePaul, jumping out to a 16-2 lead in the opening eight minutes of play and cruising to victory.

Last season Xavier struggled to a 17-14 finish, going 9-7 and losing in the first round of its final Atlantic 10 conference tournament. The Musketeers weren't the Musketeers last season. They had been to the NCAA tournament seven straight times, including one trip to the Elite Eight and three more times playing in the Sweet 16. Not playing well into March isn't what happens at Xavier.

This Xavier team has taken some lumps and it certainly still has its work cut out for it down the stretch of five final regular season games and into the Big East tournament, but the Musketeers have put themselves back in position to return to March Madness.

"We're better than we were last year," said Martin. "Here at Xavier, it's tradition. We have the same mentality every game. We had a rough season last year but we attack we approach every game the same way. We just go out with the mindset to win. We know that if we give our best effort that whatever happens between those lines we'll take the outcome. When we give our best effort it's kind of hard to lose."

Xavier is better this season. Semaj Christon is better. Martin is better. Dee Davis and Isaiah Philmore are better, and they've got a deeper, more talented group of teammates starting with center Matt Stainbrook. Freshmen Myles Davis and Jalen Reynolds missed out on playing last season; Davis because of a knee injury and Reynolds because of academics. They would've helped last season. They are helping this season.

"It's good to see that we're in the right direction, but we knew that with who we had coming in and we knew that with who we had sitting out," said coach Chris Mack. "But we also knew we were heading into the Big East and a bigger challenge. Our kids love a challenge and so it's been a great season. We just have to continue to fight and finish this thing off the right way."