Xavier: The Forgotten Big East Team

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 13th, 2015

Heading into yesterday’s Big East clash with Butler, Xavier sported a pedestrian 19-12 record with a handful of bad losses. In a league with a number of Tournament-bound teams, the Musketeers had been shockingly average. Chris Mack‘s group can look fantastic on one end, utilizing a highly efficient offense, but horrific on the other, often undone by a woeful defense. While other Big East schools this season were busy receiving recognition for their strong play, defensive prowess or prodigious talent, Mack’s team just kept humming along. There was no string of eight consecutive victories, no NBA-ready players, no Top 25 ranking.

Jalen Reynolds (left) and Xavier showed tremendous fight in their upset victory over Butler. Will the same hold true against Georgetown tonight?

Jalen Reynolds (left) and Xavier showed tremendous fight in their upset victory over Butler. Will the same hold true against Georgetown tonight? (AP)

So when Xavier drew a matchup against regional rival Butler, one of the best defensive teams in the country, the natural conclusion was that defense would triumph. For a while, yesterday’s game felt like it was heading that way. Butler played with the lead for the majority of the game, but Xavier’s offense found its groove down the stretch, throwing a wrench in a highly-anticipated Butler-Georgetown semifinal. “I’ve told these guys that everybody’s been talking about the Butler-Georgetown matchup in the semifinals, and that was a little disrespectful because [Butler] had to play us first. Then you can deal with the semifinal matchup,” Xavier coach Chris Mack said.

Mack knew the pundits were writing his team off because Xavier has been largely ignored this season. While the Musketeers have notched a number of impressive victories (a sweep of Georgetown and wins over both Butler and Providence), there is an equal and opposite number of unnerving losses (DePaul, Auburn, Long Beach State, and Creighton). As a result, Mack’s team has struggled to form any sense of identity. There is no single takeover player, no primary defensive stopper and no truly steady style of play. What we’ve instead seen is a team that adapts to the flow of the game and playing styles of its opponents. Xavier has a simple but highly effective offense featuring a bevy of shooters, inside stalwart Matt Stainbrook and emerging big man Jalen Reynolds.“Our team is really resilient. We just had to keep fighting, nothing is going to take us out except ourselves,” Mack said.

Perhaps that unpredictability is the reason many were quick to dismiss Xavier as a Big East Tournament contender, but the Musketeers have certainly proven on their good nights that they can compete with any team in the conference. Thursday night was one of those times. “We felt like if we played at our best, we would advance. That’s exactly what we did. These guys played really tough.” The key for Mack’s group going forward comes down to consistency. A second-straight strong performance in a win over Georgetown in tonight’s semifinals would go a long way toward changing the perception — from both a perspective of Xavier’s internal expectations as well as from a national one.

Justin Kundrat (175 Posts)

Villanova grad, patiently waiting another 10 years for season tickets. Follow Justin on twitter @JustinKundrat or email him at justin.kundrat@gmail.com

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