Xavier’s Dismantling of Butler Shows Musketeers Are Underrated AgainPosted by Will Tucker on November 13th, 2012
Will Tucker is an RTC correspondent and a Big East microsite writer. He filed this report from Xavier’s game versus Butler in Cincinnati today.
Does Xavier look significantly different than in years past? Butler coach Brad Stevens shook his head vigorously when asked the question after his team had been thumped, 62-47, in the Cintas Center. “No, no,” he stressed, “maybe different enough that they have a big-time chip on their shoulder. I see them having a great year,” admitting he laughed when he saw Xavier picked ninth in the Atlantic 10 this season.“I thought that that was silly to begin with.”
Chris Mack’s Musketeers had won two years in a row and nine of the last 11 meetings with Butler but still entered today as a four-point underdog on its home court against a CBI team that lost starter Ronald Nored and projected starter Chrishawn Hopkins. But that wasn’t entirely unreasonable, considering Xavier’s roster was shrouded in uncertainty, completely overhauled from a season ago after its starters all either graduated or left town. Its most experienced returning player, Travis Taylor, entered his senior campaign having logged less than 15 minutes per game, 4.5 PPG and 3.7 RPG last season. So it’s hard to fault all but the most devout Musketeer faithful for writing Xavier off as a rebuilding project in 2012-13.
But Xavier’s squad, particularly its group of seniors, sensed the disrespect and sought to prove themselves on a national stage against a reputable opponent. “We didn’t look at ourselves as underdogs,” said senior Indianapolis native Jeff Robinson, who notched 17 points and eight rebounds on 7-13 shooting after coming into the year with career averages of a modest 3.6 PPG and 2.9 RPG. “Today, we just wanted to make a statement that we’re not going to be underdogs. A lot of people were saying we will have a down season… but this year is no different. We have a great group of guys who are ready to play every day.” Classmate Taylor nodded emphatically in approval. He had pitched in 15 points and a game-high nine rebounds in addition to surpassing a personal milestone by eclipsing 1,000 career points in the second half.
The players responded well to the slights, applying unrelenting defensive pressure that stifled heralded Butler shooter Rotnei Clarke (3-11 FG, 1-7 from three) and produced 11 fast break points. When I asked Mack about today’s win being a “statement game,” he demurred from using that cliché: “I don’t know if it was a statement game so much as it was ‘we better be ready, because if we’re not we’re going to get it handed to us.’” “We respect the heck out of Butler,” he added, “It’s not hard for our kids to get up for a team like Butler, especially when you have a few guys in the starting lineup from Indiana.”
Mack pointed out that his squad could face Butler twice more this season, depending on how the A-10 Tournament plays out. November is too early for any team to get complacent after an emotional win, much less a Xavier squad that will rely more on effort and motivation than overwhelming talent. But the Musketeers made a point to college basketball fans today, and that point was that there is a subtle chemistry between these players that could pay dividends down the line. These are the guys who backed up Tu Holloway and Kenny Frease, who have been waiting in the wings for an opportunity to prove themselves for years. Regardless of whether Butler meets the expectations set in the preseason or underachieves this year, Xavier’s toughness –– which Brad Stevens acknowledged multiple times in his press conference –– would have been impressive against any team. If steady seniors Taylor, Robinson and sharpshooter Brad Redford can coalesce with young talent like pugnacious defender Dee Davis, true point guard Semaj Christon and versatile forward Justin Martin, this team will finish much better than 9th place in the A-10.