LEXINGTON, KY — It is a private religious school named after an important ecclesiastical figure. It has been to the NCAA Tournament approximately 20 times. It won a national championship, of sorts, decades ago. Even so, its coaches and players still find themselves explaining who they are and what they've done.

Only once in its history has it advanced as far as the Elite Eight. It is often referred to by a single alphabetical letter.

That would be BYU, right?

Yes and no.

It would also be Xavier University, the Cougars' opponent in today's first round NCAA Tournament game.

Nothing like meeting your long lost twin after all these years.

Once again Xavier and BYU are in the postseason, trying to make their names — or rather remake them. Both have put numerous players in the NBA, and both have been on the national radar at times. Xavier has been ranked in the AP poll in six of the past 10 seasons; BYU has been ranked in the AP poll in 15 different seasons. Both have won a national championship but not the NCAA title. Xavier won the NIT in 1958, back when it was the premier college tournament; BYU won in 1951 and 1966.

Both play in a so-called mid-major conference — BYU in the Mountain West, Xavier in the Atlantic 10 — so they get middle-or-lower seedings most years. Each won its regular season title but lost in the conference tournament this year.

Xavier refers to itself simply as "X" ("The Power of X") and BYU has been called the "Y" for decades.

So there you have it — the Battle of the Chromosomes.

Although it has been 26 years since BYU went to the Elite Eight, many of the same questions arise repeatedly: What's the story with the two-year missions; what is BYU's stance on African-Americans; is having 24-year-old players an advantage?

"Every city we go, we answer the same questions and I feel like I do the same press conference after every game," said Cougar guard Austin Ainge. "Every fan, every person at church or school, all ask the same questions. I feel like I've had to answer the same questions a million times."

"We're so different," explained BYU coach Dave Rose. "Every time, there are new (media) people from different markets or new people in the same markets."

Just last week Rose conducted a similar interview with the New York Times and fielded similar questions.

"We're unique to college basketball," he added.

But not necessarily that unique.

BYU actually has more common ground with Xavier than differences. BYU was founded in 1875 by Mormons and named after an early LDS Church president. Xavier is a private Jesuit university, founded in 1831 and named after St. Francis Xavier, who although a Spaniard, received his education in Paris and started the Jesuit Order in Paris in 1540.

In 1925, the Rev. Francis J. Finn, a member of the board of trustees, suggested they call Xavier's teams the Musketeers — not to be confused with television's Mouseketeers. The nickname referred to the chivalrous guards of the king of France.

Xavier has had 20 20-win seasons in 25 years; BYU has had 15.

BYU has won more than one game in the NCAA Tournament just once; Xavier has won more than one game twice.

Xavier is 11-17 all-time in NCAA play; BYU is 11-24. Xavier is on its 18th NCAA appearance, BYU its 22nd.

And both teams have guys on the All-Romantic Names Team: Xavier has Drew Lavender and Jason Love; BYU has Mike Rose and coach Dave Rose.

Still, even among teams so similar, awareness is hard to come by. Asked what he knows about BYU, Xavier's Stanley Burrell noted that the Cougars play in the Mountain West and that their biggest rival is Utah.

"That's pretty much about it," he said.

Asked what he knows about Xavier, other than this year's basketball team, Ainge said, "Hardly anything at all."

"It's all about national TV exposure," he added.

Which makes this a perfect time to get rediscovered.


E-mail: rock@desnews.com