By Andrew Kahn
Only two schools have been to the NCAA Tournament more than Xavier without reaching the Final Four (BYU and Missouri). Set to make their 25th appearance, the Musketeers look capable of breaking through. They lost just five games this season and earned a 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. How’d they get there?
Preseason expectation: Xavier is a top 40 team in both major polls and picked fourth in the preseason Big East poll. The Musketeers lost Matt Stainbrook, their leading scorer and rebounder, and starting point guard Dee Davis from last year’s squad that, as a 6 seed, went to the Sweet 16. An NCAA Tournament appearance is expected annually from Chris Mack’s program, but before this season it was clearly no guarantee.
November 26-29: Xavier beats Alabama, USC, and Dayton, 90-61, to improve to 7-0 and capture the AdvoCare Invitational in Orlando.
December 12: The Musketeers top in-state rival Cincinnati, 65-55, matching the best start in school history (10-0). They led by as many as 18 in the first half. A week later, they crush Auburn to reach 11-0. Having smacked Michigan in Ann Arbor earlier in the year, Xavier’s non-conference performance is as impressive as any.
December 31: It won’t be a happy new year for the Musketeers. Their undefeated season ruthlessly comes to an end, as they lose at Villanova 95-64. It’s Xavier’s worst loss since 2000. Nova hits 63 percent of its shots; Ryan Arcidiacono connects on seven three-pointers. To make matters worse, freshman Edmond Sumner suffers a concussion on a nasty fall and misses the next three games.
January 18: The X-Men bounce back after the loss with four straight wins and rise to No. 5 in the AP Poll, the highest ranking in school history. Their games have not been particularly close, a theme that will continue through the rest of the regular season. Including their four losses, their closest margin is five points; they had 11 games between seven and nine points, and all others were double digits.
February 24: In the Big East’s first matchup of top-5 teams since the league reconfigured, Xavier beats No. 1 Villanova 90-83. They had been 0-6 against the Wildcats since joining the Big East. Six Xavier players reached double figures scoring, led by JP Macura and Sumner, who each had 19.
March 6: Sophomore guard Trevon Bluiett is named to the All-Big East first team and Sumner makes the All-Freshman squad. Over the next few days, Macura is named the league’s Sixth Man of the Year and Mack earns the U.S. Basketball Writers Association’s Coach of the Year award. Interestingly enough, Mack does not win the award in his own conference (Villanova’s Jay Wright and Seton Hall’s Kevin Willard split the honor).
March 10-11: Xavier, the 2 seed in the Big East tournament, smacks Marquette in the quarterfinals, 90-72. The next day, they are upset by Seton Hall. Khadeen Carrington scores 23 and Isaiah Whitehead added 20 for the Pirates. The Musketeers attempt a season-high 30 three-pointers and make just eight.
The road ahead: Xavier, the 2 seed in the East, will play Weber State, the Big Sky regular season and tournament champs, on Friday in St. Louis. A win would lead to a matchup with Wisconsin or Pittsburgh. From there, the bracket would take them to Philadelphia for potential games against West Virginia and/or top seed North Carolina.
Andrew Kahn is a regular contributor to CBS Local who also writes for Newsday and The Wall Street Journal. He writes about college basketball and other sports at andrewjkahn.com and you can find his Scoop and Score podcast on iTunes. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @AndrewKahn.