The 2009-10 season was another fun ride for Xavier fans. Things have kind of come full circle. In my season preview, I made the case for why this Xavier team could actually be better than last year’s top 15 team. When it took a while for the team to mesh and the losses began to pileup against teams without much hype, that seemed like a pretty foolish prediction. By the end of the season, in my opinion, there were not 10 teams in the country better than Xavier. Of course that is a tough statement to backup. You could point to Xavier’s #15 ranking on KenPom, or #19 RPI or wherever they end up ranked when the final polls come out, but numbers and stats don’t tell the full story of how this team came together and played some great basketball over the last couple months of the season.
Crawford, MANning up
It is interesting now to look back at those 5 non-conference losses. One was at Kansas St. Another was that son of a bitching at Butler. Those 2 teams are in the Elite 8 and one will move onto the Final 4. One was against Baylor, a Sweet 16 team that is expected to advance even further in the tourney. The other 2 were to Marquette and Wake Forest, seeded 6th and 9th respectively in the tourney. At the time, some of those losses felt bad and seemed like they came against mediocre teams. In hindsight, X’s only non-con losses were to some really solid teams. Teams that are proving how good they are right now on the biggest stage.
While scheduling a lot of nationally ranked teams and playing a lot of games on the road in hostile environments can lead to some early losses (especially in years with a lot of new players), it also makes Xavier just as “battle tested” as teams from the Big East, ACC, Big 10, etc. and that is clear when you watch the Muskies play in the NCAA tourney. There is absolutely no intimidation when it comes to playing these top teams anymore. I think that is a relatively new development for Xavier. As recently as David West’s senior year, Xavier seemed a bit intimidated going up against Maryland, an ACC team. Even during the magical season of “The Run” Xavier wasn’t exactly intimidated, but there was definitely a feeling of, “wow, we are playing an SEC team” or “holy crap, it’s Duke.” Over the last few seasons, that has completely and totally disappeared and the Musketeers are as confident and poised as just about any team in the country. They can go up against a well coached, tough Big East team seeded #3 and say we matchup pretty well and might even be a little more talented. It’s pretty amazing to see that and realize how far the program has come since I was a kid and X-Evansville was a big game.
I personally have some mixed emotions about the Xavier loss. On the one hand, it is a bit more disappointing than some other recent ones. Xavier was so close to winning and I truly believe if X could have got past KSU, this team would have beat Butler. The Final Four was right there and maybe for the first time ever, I thought it was realistic that Xavier could make it there. Butler and then someone from the OSU/Tenn/MSU/No. Iowa bracket….Call me crazy, but even making it to the finals seemed realistic.
Always sad to see a great season end
On the other hand, it is hard to be too disappointed. I said earlier that I didn’t think there were 10 teams in the country playing better than Xavier. However, Kansas State was one of those teams. When Pullen and Clemente are hot, there are only a couple teams in the entire country that are as good as KSU. When the shots are falling like that for KSU, they are a legit top 5 team (in my opinion) and played about as well as they can play and Xavier gave them all they wanted and then some. It is pretty impressive for a Xavier team that came into the season with a rookie coach, 3 new starters and that was nowhere near being ranked in the top 25 was out there playing one of the nation’s best teams and X absolutely looked like they belonged there.
Dear Lord, Please deliver Jordan Crawford unto us for one more season
More than anything, I just feel proud of the team and optimistic about the future. Xavier plays great basketball and they do everything right as a program also as far as all the off the court stuff. I don’t think that stuff matters as much in some instances, especially if you are a fan of a big state school that you didn’t attend. I mean you are a fan of the sports team. How much does anything about academics really effect you? With Xavier it is a bit different. In part because Xavier is so small. In part because most of the real Xavier fans are also alumni. And also because basketball plays such a crucial role in everything that Xavier is trying to do academically. Success on the court (and doing it the right way) is so intertwined with fund raising, raising Xavier’s profile nationally and everything else Xavier is trying to accomplish that this team’s winning has made an impact bigger than these kids probably know.
As far as future optimism goes, it really seems like Xavier is positioned awesomely to keep things rolling for many years to come. Of course any hope of a Final Four run probably depend on whether Jordan Crawford decides to return or not. If he does, Xavier will be absolutely loaded next year. I think he’s probably gone (if so, good luck, X nation will be rooting for you wherever your future leads). But maybe X makes another deep run without him. I know at this time last year, people were saying X’s only hope of contending was if Derrick Brown came back. He left and X was still very good. While Crawford was one of those once a decade type talents (like David West 9 years ago), Xavier is still in great shape. In the NCAA tourney, it is all about great guard play and even without Crawford, Xavier will have it. Terrell Holloway really grew up this past season and if JC goes, he should be the “go-to” guy next year. It is a comforting feeling knowing that we have a guy who is CLUTCH (great FTs at the end, there is no more pressure-filled situation in the game of basketball than what he faced) running the show. Dante will be back and he will be gunning for Jason Love’s all-time Xavier wins record. Lyons will be a sophomore and if JC’s gone, he will need to pick up more of the scoring load. Add in Redford, Walsh and 2 new SG/SF recruits and Xavier is going to be very deep, talented and experienced on the perimeter next year.
Jay Canty should add the wing rebounding X so sorely lacked this year
Speaking of the new recruits, I am most excited to see what Jay Canty can do. I personally believe that he will be able to come in and contribute immediately and that by next March, he will be getting starter’s minutes at the SF position (if JC leaves) and Dante will move to his more natural SG position. Canty’s an underrated recruit who could be a really big-time player for the Musketeer. The real question for Xavier will again be up front. Landing Kenny Frease was supposed to solidify the interior for Xavier for a long time but it just has not happened for whatever reason. It isn’t too late though. BJ Raymond barely played his first 2 years and then became a star. Jason Love and some other Xavier big men (Cole, Caudle, Duncan, etc.) all took a while to develop also. It is really all on Kenny to focus on getting done what he needs to get done to improve himself because if he does, Jamel, A-Tay and Robinson are back and Xavier has 2 highly touted PF/C recruits coming in. Depth upfront shouldn’t be an issue, but Xavier needs someone to step up and play like a MAN in that starting C position.
Even longer term, it will be interesting to see what effect this season has on recruiting. X already has a great 2010 class signed and with two super 2011 recruits committed, Xavier is halfway to its best class ever. The top remaining guy on Xavier’s wish list appears to be Jakarr Sampson from Akron and Xavier’s biggest competition may be Cincinnati and Dayton. Perhaps seeing those teams in the NIT while Xavier made another deep NCAA run will have an impact on Sampson and others like him (X is also in on some extremely highly touted guys in Indiana). The program is getting to the point where winning these recruiting battles is a lot easier as the Xavier “brand” becomes stronger and stronger.
Lastly, Chris Mack did one hell of a job as a first year coach. As I mentioned, X did not look the least bit intimidated going against these big-time schools and that all starts at the top with Coach Mack. With Mack at the helm and the G position stocked for the long haul with guys like Holloway, Lyons, Canty (2010), Justin Martin (2010), Dez Wells (2011), and Dee Davis (2011), Xavier should continue to be a national contender for the foreseeable future.
Congrats to Coach Mack, AD Mike Bobinski, Jordan Crawford, Jason Love, Terrell Holloway, Dante Jackson and all the other guys on an outstanding season. It has been fun to watch.