Tag Archives: Semaj Christon

Xavier Basketball: 5 Storylines for the Musketeers in 2013-14

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Despite not making the NCAA tournament last season for the first time since 2005, the future looks bright for the Xavier Musketeers. The 2013-14 season will usher in Xavier’s transition to the Big East, the addition of Western Michigan transfer Matt Stainbrook to the starting lineup and the development of reigning Atlantic 10 Freshman of the Year Semaj Christon.

With head coach Chris Mack at the helm, the Muskies will look to improve upon their 17-14 record and seventh-place finish in the A-10 last season. Xavier is in its second year of rebuilding the program.

The Musketeers will rely on a lot of youth next season with five freshmen and two sophomores on scholarship. Xavier can expect a lot of competition for playing time as well as depth on the bench—something the Musketeers lacked last season—as it enters a new era in the Big East.

Semaj Christon earned Atlantic 10 Freshman of the Year honors last season.  (Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)
Semaj Christon earned Atlantic 10 Freshman of the Year honors last season.
(Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)

1. Playing in the Big East

In the midst of conference re-alignment, the Big East became a revolving door as the “Catholic 7” of Georgetown, Villanova, DePaul, Marquette, St. John’s, Providence and Seton Hall separated from the rest of their conference; the Catholic 7 then added Xavier and Butler from the Atlantic 10 in addition to Creighton from the Missouri Valley Conference to form a 10-team conference.

Despite sending five teams to the tournament last year, the A-10 has historically been regarded as a second-tier conference full of mid-majors. Xavier has achieved sustained success in the postseason that has exceeded the expectations for most mid-majors.

Xavier has 11 NCAA tournament berths in the past 13 seasons; the Musketeers have had three Sweet 16 and two Elite Eight appearances in that stretch. The Muskies will get the opportunity to take their program to the next level in the Big East.

The Big East is still one of the better basketball conferences, regardless if many fans add the qualifier “new” in front of it.

Butler has proven that it’s a program capable of making deep runs in the tournament.

Georgetown returns the majority of its roster from a Hoya team that had a 25-7 record and tied for a Big East Championship last year.

Creighton’s senior forward Doug McDermott will be one of the preseason National Player of the Year favorites after averaging more than 23 points and nearly eight rebounds per game last season.

Plus, ESPN Bracketologist Joe Lunardi projects for five Big East teams to make next season’s tournament in his first 2013-14 bracket.

The Big East Tournament will be held in Madison Square Garden, and ESPN New York reporter Kieran Darcy reported that the Big East agreed to a 12-year deal with Fox Sports.

The combination of star players, tournament-bound teams, major venues and multi-year television deals means that Xavier will have more national exposure than ever before.

2. Playing in the Battle 4 Atlantis

On Thanksgiving weekend, the Musketeers will play in the Bahamas in the Battle 4 Atlantis along with Kansas, Iowa, Tennessee, USC, Vilanova, UTEP and Wake Forest.

While the matchups have not been announced for the tournament, Xavier has the opportunity to play a potential Top Five team in Kansas, who recently added the class of 2013’s No. 1 recruit, Andrew Wiggins, and a fringe Top 25 team in Iowa, who returns its top five scorers from last year’s Hawkeye squad that lost in the NIT Championship and finished the season with a 25-13 record.

It could also face USC and the Trojans’ new head coach Andy Enfield, who led No. 15 Florida Gulf Coast to the Sweet 16 last year, and Tennessee, who CBS College Basketball Insider Gary Parrish said should be considered a Top 25 team after the announcement of Antonio Barton’s transfer from Memphis.

The Musketeers could potentially face challenging competition in the Bahamas, which would help the strength of their nonconference schedule, and the tournament can only help Xavier’s case to make the NCAA tournament in March.

Xavier has not faced a Top 10 team in its nonconference schedule since 2008, and playing multiple ranked teams in consecutive days would prepare the Muskies for the challenges that lie ahead in the Big East.

3. The Development of Semaj Christon

Xavier’s point guard won A-10 Freshman of the Year honors last season after averaging 15.2 points and more than four assists per game.

Christon suffered his share of growing pains; he turned the ball over 10 times against VCU, made just one of his nine shots before fouling out in a four-point loss to Tennessee and he was 3-of-11 from the field against Wake Forest, to name a few of his less-than-stellar performances.

However, the Cincinnati native was one of the bright spots on an inexperienced team that lost its top five scorers from the 2011-12 season. Christon led Xavier in points, assists, steals and free throws attempted last year.

His best statistical game of the season was a 20-point, seven-assist and seven-rebound effort in an overtime win against No. 16 Saint Louis as Xavier made one final push for an at-large bid to the tournament.

Xavier coach Chris Mack tweeted this spring that Christon will be one of the team’s captains as a sophomore, so he will have a larger leadership role next season.

Just as the point guard will have an opportunity to improve in the locker room, he has room to get better on the court as well. Christon made just 25 percent of his 28 three-point shots and connected on only 67 percent of his free throws. While he averaged nearly five assists per game, he turned the ball over almost four times per game.

Xavier’s success in the inaugural season of the “new” Big East starts and ends with Christon.

If he can make strides upon the promising foundation he laid in his freshman year, he could become one of the premier point guards in the country and even be in the discussion for Big East Player of the Year.

4. The Fab 5

Xavier coach Chris Mack put together an impressive five-man freshman class for next season that has flown under the radar.

Myles Davis and Jalen Reynolds were both given a grade of 92 by ESPN.

Davis and Reynolds were supposed to play last season for the Musketeers, but the NCAA denied the eligibility of both players, according to former CBS Sports college basketball writer Jeff Goodman. Goodman wrote that both players paid for their first year of school at Xavier University and could not practice with the team.

Reynolds is a 6’9″ forward who was originally a 2011 commit before he attended prep school at Brewster Academy in New Jersey for one year. He will be two years older than most freshmen.

Davis is a 6’2″ guard from Notre Dame Prep in Fitchburg, Mass.

In addition, Xavier will have Brandon Randolph, a point guard out of Inglewood, Calif. who is ranked No. 86 on ESPN’s 2013 Top 100 players list.

Kamall Richards is the fourth member of Xavier’s freshman class. The 6’6″ small forward is a 3-star recruit, according to Rivals.com.

The Musketeers’ most recent commitment was from Aleksandar Vezenkov, a 6’8″ Bulgarian forward who has experience playing on the Bulgarian junior national team and the Greek professional team Aris, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer‘s Shannon Russell.

With half of Xavier’s 2012 recruiting class, which was ranked 14th in the country by ESPN, beginning their college careers next season, in addition to the three 2013 commits, the Musketeers’ freshman class has a bright future.

5. The Impact of Transfer Players

After sitting out last season per NCAA transfer rules, Western Michigan transfer Matt Stainbrook, a junior center, will provide the Musketeers a big body in the middle. At 6’9″ and 275 pounds, Stainbrook averaged more than 11 points and nearly seven rebounds per game as a sophomore for the Broncos.

In two seasons at Western Michigan, Stainbrook registered 10 double-doubles and scored a career-high 32 points against South Dakota State as a sophomore.

The native of Bay Village, Ohio also had the chance to prove himself against some of the country’s top teams. He made seven of his eight shots against No. 19 Illinois in his freshman season in a 16-point effort. In his sophomore year, Stainbrook scored 18 points and grabbed eight rebounds against No. 5 Duke.

With the loss of Travis Taylor (11.9 points and 9.0 rebounds per game) and Jeff Robinson (6.8 points and 4.8 rebounds per game) due to graduation, Stainbrook will have the opportunity to start immediately in Xavier’s frontcourt.

Similarly to Christon, Stainbrook was selected as a team captain by his teammates for the upcoming season, so he has earned his teammates’ respect despite not playing in a Xavier uniform yet in his college career.

On May 17, Xavier added a second transfer, former Indiana guard Remy Abell, to its roster. While the sophomore will have to sit out the 2013-14 season, he will be able to practice with the Musketeers and make his teammates even better.

Abell will bring the experience of practicing with two All-Americans, Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller, to Xavier, so he has seen firsthand what it takes to play at the highest level in college basketball.

The future of the new Big East

The Big East announced this week that the conference’s basketball-only schools, which have been referred to as the Catholic 7—DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, Seton Hall, St. John’s and Villanova—will leave on June 30, 2013.

While early reports indicated that these universities would create their own conference under a new name, the Catholic 7 will retain the “Big East” label in addition to playing its conference tournament at Madison Square Garden in Manhattan, New York.

As the new Big East looks to expand to a 10 or 12-team conference, the universities have three options in which they can add new members—only Catholic schools, only private schools or open the conference to public universities.

The initial rumors are that the new Big East will acquire Butler and Xavier from the Atlantic 10 Conference as well as Creighton from the Missouri Valley Conference to expand to a 10-team conference for the 2013-14 season.

The new Big East would like to reach at least 12 teams by 2014. Dayton and Saint Louis are the front-runners for the final spots for the new conference. Richmond and VCU have also been given consideration for admission to the new Big East.

Here is a look at the potential additions to the new Big East:

Butler Bulldogs

Conference: Atlantic 10

Record: 24-7 (11-5)—T-3rd in the A-10

Record over the past decade: 241-96 (.715 winning percentage)

Regular season conference championships: 18

Conference tournament championships: 7

NCAA Tournament History:

Appearances: 11—1962, ’97-98, 2000-01, ’07-11

Record: 18-11

Sweet Sixteen: 5—1962, 2003, ’07, ’10-11

Elite Eight: 2—’10-11

Final Four: 2—’10-11

National Championship Runner-Up: ’10-11

Butler has been one of the best teams in the NCAA Tournament in the past five seasons, with two national championship game appearances and another Sweet Sixteen run. Led by Brad Stevens, who at only 36 years old is one of the best young coaches in college basketball, Butler has skyrocketed from a middle-of-the-road team in the Horizon League to the front of the national spotlight. Butler University has the size of a mid-major but its recent accomplishments have earned the men’s basketball program the prestige of an established power 6 conference team.

Xavier Musketeers

Conference: Atlantic 10

Record: 17-13 (9-7)—T-6th in the A-10

Record over the past decade: 236-105 (.692 winning percentage)

Regular season conference championships: 17

Conference tournament championships: 10

NCAA Tournament History:

Appearances: 23

Record: 21-23

Sweet Sixteen: 6—1990, 2004, ’08-12

Elite Eight: 2—2004, ‘08

Xavier is one of the best examples of a mid-major that has achieved sustained postseason success. The Musketeers have been a staple for the NCAA Tournament in the new millennium. Since the 2000-01 season, XU has only missed the tourney once, in 2005. The Muskies have made a name for themselves with five Sweet Sixteen appearances since 2004, including each of the past four seasons, and Elite Eight berths in ’04 and ’08. While a 17-12 record is a down year for Xavier’s standards, the Musketeers have defeated two ranked opponents in their past three games as they make a final push for the NCAA Tournament. Led by the probable Atlantic 10 Freshman of the Year, point guard Semaj Christon, and an accomplished young coach in Chris Mack, the Xavier Musketeers have a bright future once their rebuilding process is complete.

Creighton Bluejays

Conference: Missouri Valley

Record: 27-7 (13-5)—1st in the MVC

Record over the past decade: 231-105 (.688 winning percentage)

Regular season conference championships: 15

Conference tournament championships: 12

NCAA Tournament History:

Appearances: 17

Record: 10-18

Sweet Sixteen: 3—1962, ’64, ‘74

While junior Doug McDermott has been the recipient of most of the media’s attention at Creighton, the Bluejays have long been successful before the school’s leading scorer ever stepped foot on campus. In the past decade, Creighton has failed to reach 20 wins only once and the Jays have finished no worse than fourth in the Missouri Valley standings during that time span.

Dayton Flyers

Conference: Atlantic 10

Record: 17-13 (7-9)—T-11th in the A-10

Record over the past decade: 209-120 (.635 winning percentage)

Conference tournament championships: 2

NCAA Tournament History:

Appearances: 14

Record: 14-16

Sweet Sixteen: 6—1952, ’65-67, ’74, ‘84

Elite Eight: 2—1967, ‘84

Final Four: 1967

National Championship Runner-Up: 1967

Unfortunately for Dayton, its best seasons were before any of the current Flyers players were born. The Flyers have a respectable winning percentage in recent years but they lack banners and trophies to show for it. They were selected to the NCAA Tournament four times since the turn of the century but were eliminated in the first round on three occasions. Dayton also lacks the elusive Atlantic 10 regular season champion honor and the team has only won the A-10 Tournament twice. Regardless of Dayton’s lack of post-season accomplishments, the Flyers are a solid team year in and year out.

Saint Louis Billikens

Conference: Atlantic 10

Record: 24-6 (13-3)—1st in the A-10

Record over the past decade: 183-125 (.594 winning percentage)

Regular season conference championships: 6

Conference tournament championships: 1

NCAA Tournament History:

Appearances: 7

Record: 4-8

Sweet Sixteen: 2—1952, ‘57

Elite Eight: 1952

While SLU’s most accomplished seasons were in the 1950’s, the Billikens are on the rise. In 2011-12, Saint Louis won 26 games and reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament. The Billikens won the regular season A-10 title this year with a 13-3 conference record and they were ranked as high as 16th. Saint Louis Head Coach Jim Crews has led the team through the death of SLU’s former coach, Rick Majerus, and many analysts believe that the Billikens could be a sleeper in March.   

Virginia Commonwealth

Conference: Atlantic 10

Record: 24-7 (12-4)—2nd in the A-10

Record over the past decade: 222-92 (.707 winning percentage)

Regular season conference championships: 9

Conference tournament championships: 8

NCAA Tournament History:

Appearances: 11

Record: 11-11

Sweet Sixteen: 2011

Elite Eight: 2011

Final Four: 2011

Virginia Commonwealth is not new to the NCAA Tournament—the Rams participated in March Madness five seasons in a six year span in the early 1980’s. However, VCU then went dormant for nearly two decades before re-emerging as a force to be reckoned with in the postseason. The Rams knocked off Duke in ’07 then made a Final Four run in 2011, in which they lost to a fellow Cinderella team in Butler in the national semifinal. VCU’s move to the Atlantic 10 has paid off as Shaka Smart & Co. have proven themselves against stronger competition than they faced in the Colonial Athletic Association.

Richmond Spiders

Conference: Atlantic 10

Record: 18-13 (8-8)—T-9th in the A-10

Record over the past decade: 180-144 (.556 winning percentage)

Regular season conference championships: 5

Conference tournament championships: 6

NCAA Tournament History:

Appearances: 9

Record: 8-9

Sweet Sixteen: 2—1988, 2011

While Richmond has only one conference honor, 2011 A-10 Tournament champion, since 2001, the Spiders are known for their performances in March. In 1984, Richmond took down Charles Barkley and No. 5 seed Auburn. In 1988, UR defeated the defending national champion, Indiana, in the opening round and advanced to the Sweet Sixteen after beating Georgia Tech. Then in 1991, the Spiders became the first No. 15 seed to beat a No. 2 when they topped Syracuse. While Richmond hasn’t been able to sustain regular season success, the Spiders are deadly in the NCAA Tournament. 

When the new Big East evaluates its options for the conference, it will look for private universities with both a history and recent track record of success in college basketball. There are no bad choices in the group—all of the teams have had some level of regular and postseason successes as well as most schools have trended upward in the past decade.

Assuming that the new Big East will only select private universities, it will likely admit Butler, Xavier and Creighton over the summer. Saint Louis is the next best team out of the private institutions. To make the Big East a 12-team conference, Dayton or Richmond would be the final school. Neither one is a bad choice. Dayton has gone further in the NCAA Tournament on more occasions. However, Richmond has more regular season and conference tournament championships; plus, the Spiders have more damage in March more recently than Dayton.

These additions should make the new Big East a stronger basketball conference in the long run than the America 12, which is the frontrunner for the schools left out of the new conference. Connecticut has won two men’s and three women’s basketball national championships in the past decade but the America 12 will lack the depth that the new Big East will have after 2014.

Big East

America 12

Butler

Central Florida

Creighton

Cincinnati

DePaul

Connecticut

Georgetown

East Carolina

Marquette

Houston

Providence

Memphis

Richmond/Dayton/VCU

Rutgers

Saint Louis

South Florida

Seton Hall

Southern Methodist

St. John’s

Temple

Villanova

Tulane

Xavier

Tulsa

Bracketology Report: Xavier Musketeers

Xavier Musketeers—(14-10, 7-4)—5th place in the Atlantic 10

Strength of schedule: 96

RPI: 98

BPI: 87

Good wins:

  • 62-47 vs. Butler
  • 57-52 vs. Temple
  • 70-63 vs. La Salle

Bad losses:

  • 56-55 vs. Wofford
  • 66-59 @ Wake Forest

Remaining schedule:

  • 2/20 @ Rhode Island
  • 2/23 vs. No. 24 VCU
  • 2/26 vs. No. 21 Memphis
  • 3/2 vs. Massachusetts
  • 3/6 vs. Saint Louis
  • 3/9 @ Butler

Xavier has made the NCAA Tournament in each of the last seven seasons and in 11 of the past 12 but the Musketeers are on pace to miss the Big Dance this year. XU Coach Chris Mack had a difficult challenge ahead of him for the 2012-13 season when senior guard Mark Lyons and sophomore forward Dez Wells left the team. Lyons and Mack disagreed about Lyons’ role on the team, which led to Lyons transferring to Arizona; Wells was expelled from Xavier University after allegedly committing sexual assault but he was never charged. XU Coach Mack had to replace all five starters from last year’s Musketeers team that made the Sweet Sixteen.

Led by freshman sensation Semaj Christon, Xavier has remained in the top third of the A-10 but the Muskies’ résumé needs some major improvement for XU to be chosen by the selection committee on March 17th. The highlight of Xavier’s non-conference schedule and overall résumé is a 15-point victory against Butler on Nov. 13. While XU has also defeated La Salle and Temple, who are fourth and seventh in the A-10, respectively, the Musketeers let too many winnable games slip out of their grasp. Xavier lost by three to Pacific, two to Vanderbilt in overtime, one to Wofford, four to Tennessee, six to Charlotte and two to Richmond.

Freshman point guard Semaj Christon has been one of the few bright spots for Xavier this season. (Image courtesy of www.bannersontheparkway.com)
Freshman point guard Semaj Christon has been one of the few bright spots for Xavier this season. (Image courtesy of http://www.bannersontheparkway.com)

While Xavier is certainly on the outside, looking in on the field of 68 teams selected for the NCAA Tournament, hope remains for the Musketeers. Three of Xavier’s final six games are against ranked opponents, in addition to a matchup against the A-10 leading Saint Louis Billikens. If the Musketeers can win three of those four games, or if they can win the A-10 Tournament, Xavier will be in the Big Dance.

Prediction: Xavier will defeat Rhode Island and Massachusetts but will lose to VCU, Memphis, Saint Louis and Butler. The Musketeers will be the No. 7 seed in the A-10 Tournament. XU will win its first round matchup but lose in the second round. Xavier’s 17-15 record will earn the Musketeers a No. 7 seed in the NIT.

College basketball stock report: 5 teams to buy, sell or hold

Illinois

SELL

The Fighting Illini started the season 12-0 and defeated No. 10 Gonzaga on the road by double digits. However, since Illinois’ victory over Eastern Kentucky on Dec. 16, John Groce’s squad is 3-5 and 2-4 in the Big Ten. The Illini lost to unranked Purdue, Wisconsin and Northwestern, which does not bode well since their schedule will only get tougher as the season progresses. They still have to play Michigan twice, Indiana and Michigan State for the first time, in addition to rematches against Minnesota and Ohio State.

Michigan State

BUY

It's a good time to be in East Lansing, Mich. as Tom Izzo and the Michigan State Spartans sit atop the Big Ten standings with a 6-1 record. (Image courtesy of http://wkzo.com/news/articles/2012/sep/24/msu-basketball-coach-tom-izzo-guest-speaker-at-kalamazoo-benefit/)
It’s a good time to be in East Lansing, Mich. since Tom Izzo and the Michigan State Spartans sit atop the Big Ten standings with a 6-1 record. (Image courtesy of http://wkzo.com/news/articles/2012/sep/24/msu-basketball-coach-tom-izzo-guest-speaker-at-kalamazoo-benefit/)

The Spartans were on the verge of dropping out of the AP Top 25 after three losses in the 2012 calendar year. Michigan State’s challenging non-conference schedule paid off; Tom Izzo’s squad is leading the Big Ten with a two game lead over Michigan and Indiana. Three of Michigan State’s Big Ten wins are by three points or fewer, which separates great teams from the good ones in March.

 Oregon

BUY

The Ducks sit alone at the top of the Pac-12 standings after defeating No. 24 UCLA last Saturday. Arizona and UCLA only appear once on Oregon’s schedule, which means there are no ranked opponents remaining on the Ducks’ schedule. Oregon is in the driver’s seat to win the Pac-12 now that the team’s biggest challenges are in the Ducks’ rearview mirror.

Wisconsin

HOLD

Bo Ryan’s Badgers are a very perplexing team. Wisconsin lost four of its first 10 games then rattled off seven consecutive wins, including victories over No. 12 Illinois and No. 2 Indiana. After defeating the Hoosiers in Assembly Hall, the Badgers dropped two games to Iowa and Michigan State by a total of six points. Wisconsin has the coach and the talent to finish in the top three in the Big Ten or the Badgers could end up sixth or seventh. They have been too inconsistent to determine how good they can be in college basketball’s toughest conference.

Xavier

BUY

The 2012-13 Musketeers are possibly one of the weakest Xavier teams in the past decade and most Atlantic 10 projections have Xavier as a middle-of-the-road team in the conference yet Semaj Christon & Co. have started to turn their season around in conference play. Don’t look now but Xavier is tied with Virginia Commonwealth for first place. The Muskies have pulled out close wins against Temple, St. Bonaventure and La Salle after losing four straight games in non-conference play. They don’t play VCU and Butler until late in the season, which means that Xavier has over a month to improve before it faces two of the A-10’s best teams.

Postgame Video: Wofford’s 56-55 Win over Xavier

Wofford came back after being down 30-16 to beat Xavier in the final minute of the game at the Cintas Center on Saturday, December 22nd.

Wofford's ability to knock down three-point shots and free throws allowed the Terriers to come back after being down 14 points in the first half.
Wofford’s ability to knock down three-point shots and free throws allowed the Terriers to come back after being down 14 points in the first half.

An Open Letter to Chris Mack

Dear Coach Mack,

I have been very impressed with the Xavier University men’s basketball team during your three-year tenure at the school. The Musketeers have made the NCAA Tournament every year with you at the helm, which includes two Sweet Sixteen appearances. I give you credit where it is deserved–in your entire body of work as the head coach at Xavier since 2009. However, I question your coaching in Xavier’s 56-55 loss to Wofford.

The game was an opportunity for the team to prove themselves against a non-conference opponent and to boost its confidence after a disappointing loss to rival Cincinnati in the Crosstown Classic. Against the Terriers, your team came out strong in the first half with a 34-22 lead thanks to 15 points from forward Travis Taylor. While Taylor was in the forefront of the Xavier’s dominating first half performance, it was a team effort that allowed your team to be in the driver’s seat. Nine players saw the floor as you put different combinations of Musketeers out on the court but it was the starting five of Taylor, forward Isaiah Philmore, forward Justin Martin, guard Dee Davis and guard Semaj Christon that had the most success.

For some reason, in the second half, you largely abandoned your starting five by replacing Philmore and Martin with forward Erik Stenger and guard Brad Redford. Redford’s ideal role on the team is to be a spot-up three-point shooter. That has been clear since his senior year of high school when he averaged 36.7 points per game and his freshman season at Xavier when he knocked down 46.5 percent of his three-point attempts. Redford fulfilled his role when he hit two shots from behind the arc in the final 15 seconds to tie the game at 55. However, before those shots, he had played 24 minutes, missed all three of his shot attempts, grabbed one rebound and committed three fouls. If Brad Redford isn’t knocking down jumpers, then he is taking away minutes from capable rebounders such as Philmore, Martin and Jeff Robinson. Redford doesn’t add speed, spectacular ball handling ability or a lock-down defensive presence, so his second half minutes were extremely questionable. I give you credit for playing him in the team’s final offensive possessions. He deserved to be on the floor so that Xavier had a three-point scorer who could give the Muskies a chance to come from behind. However, if Redford didn’t play as much as he did in the second half, then Xavier may not have needed to hit a pair of threes in the final minute to have a chance to win; more minutes for Philmore and Martin could have translated to the team cruising to its eighth win of the season.

Chris Mack's questionable coaching decisions make him largely responsible for Xavier's one-point loss to Wofford. (Image courtesy of http://www.rantsports.com/ncaa-basketball/2012/10/01/juco-star-chris-thomas-back-on-the-market-after-decommitting-from-xavier/)
Chris Mack’s questionable coaching decisions make him largely responsible for Xavier’s one-point loss to Wofford. (Image courtesy of http://www.rantsports.com/ncaa-basketball/2012/10/01/juco-star-chris-thomas-back-on-the-market-after-decommitting-from-xavier/)

Xavier’s second half offense with Redford and Stenger on the floor left me scratching my head as I tried to figure out what was the team’s plan. There was lots of passing on the perimeter that rarely led to good looks. Too often a Musketeer would settle for a bad shot on offense, which is why the team only scored 21 points in the second half. Xavier has the Atlantic 10’s best NBA prospect, freshman Semaj Christon, yet not enough offensive plays were run through him. Christon, who stands at 6’3″ and weighs 180 lbs., has much greater size than former Xavier point guards Drew Lavender (5’7″ 153 lbs.) and Tu Holloway (6’0″ 190 lbs.). The Cincinnati native can drive to the rim at will and hold his own in the lane in ways that his predecessors couldn’t due to their height, so where were the calls for him to take over the game? When things were heading south for Xavier and Wofford came back after being down 30-16, the best option was to have Semaj Christon penetrate the lane. Once Christon exposed the Terriers defense, he could look to Taylor, who made six of his seven shot attempts in the first half. Taylor only had five second half points because Xavier stopped feeding him the ball even though he was on pace to have a career high in points scored.

Wofford taking the lead with 3:10 remaining in the game was the impetus to substitute Philmore, Martin and Robinson back in the game but it was too little too late. Xavier started playing a full-court press and showed a strong defensive intensity, especially from Christon, that had been absent for most of the day. It was that same constant pressure on defense that held Butler to only 47 points and a 36.5 shooting percentage in a statement win earlier in the season, so why is it not a staple for the Musketeers?

Coach Mack, I applaud your seamless transition from the Sean Miller era of the Xavier University men’s basketball program and your recruitment of talented players such as Semaj Christon. However, this year’s team is inexperienced and the Musketeers are going to need great coaching in order to reach their potential. A shooting percentage of 27.3 from behind the arc and eight missed free throws certainly contributed to the one-point loss but I think the coaching in Saturday’s game deserves most of the blame. There is lots for the team to learn from in the loss to Wofford and it will be just one of the many growing pains for a squad that could easily exceed expectations when all is said and done this season. Hopefully learning to play Isaiah Philmore and Justin Martin more than Brad Redford, to allow Semaj Christon to take over the game on offense and to play forty minutes of intense defense are a few of the takeaways from the loss.

Sincerely,

Andy Wittry

Cincinnati and Xavier Move Past Brawl into New Era of Crosstown Rivalry

The producers of the Crosstown Classic on ESPN2 elected not to show the brawl that scarred the 2011 Crosstown Shootout because they wanted to move past the skirmish that has haunted the University of Cincinnati and Xavier University for the past year. On Wednesday night, the two schools did just that and took the first steps into renewing a healthy Queen City rivalry.

The Crosstown Shootout was renamed the Crosstown Classic to give the Cincinnati-Xavier rivalry a new identity after the 2011 brawl. (Image courtesy of http://bearcatsnation.com/2012/06/15/crosstown-shootout-renamed-the-crosstown-classic-lets-give-everybody-a-trophy-too/)
The Crosstown Shootout was renamed the Crosstown Classic to give the Cincinnati-Xavier rivalry a new identity after the brawl in 2011. (Image courtesy of http://bearcatsnation.com/2012/06/15/crosstown-shootout-renamed-the-crosstown-classic-lets-give-everybody-a-trophy-too/)

With a neutral venue, an improved identity of the annual series and five of the eight players suspended from their roles in last year’s brawl no longer playing for either team, the 2012 edition of the Cincinnati-Xavier matchup was played on amicable terms. As part of the efforts to improve the relationship between the two schools, the men’s and women’s basketball teams went to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center on November 10th. The referees, coaches and players set the tone early that hostility and trash talking would have no place in the game, which let the city of Cincinnati as well as the rest of the country that the teams had turned a page to brighter days.

No. 11 Cincinnati entered the matchup as the clear favorite but Xavier played confidently in the first half, knowing that they had defeated the Bearcats in four of the past five meetings. The Musketeers went into halftime with a 24-22 lead thanks to Cincinnati’s atrocious 2-11 shooting performance from behind the arc. Xavier senior forward Travis Taylor scored eight points before halftime and freshman point guard Semaj Christon scored all six of his points in the first half. Christon was able to penetrate Cincinnati’s defense and dished out four assists.

However, the Muskies’ success was short-lived as the Bearcats started the second half with a 21-6 run, which included 11 points from junior guard Sean Kilpatrick, the team’s leading scorer. Injuries to both of the team’s starting guards, Semaj Christon and Dee Davis, prevented Xavier from going on a run of their own. The Musketeers cut UC’s lead to eight but Cashmere Wright and JaQuon Parker scored nine points in the final five minutes of action as the ‘Cats extended their all-time series lead to 49-31.

If No. 6 Indiana wasn’t playing Mount St. Mary’s on the Big Ten Network and the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets weren’t playing a rivalry game of their own on ESPN at the same time as the Crosstown Classic, then I doubt I would have been able to watch the entire game. It was next to unbearable. Xavier shot 37.7 percent from the field, 15.4 percent from behind the arc and 21.4 percent from the free throw line. Cincinnati’s statistics were not much better–32.8 percent from the field, 20.8 percent from three-point range and 68.4 percent from the charity stripe. In the span of fourteen seconds early in the first half, Cincinnati players missed four shots (three of which were within five feet of the basket) and grabbed the offensive rebound after each one before center Cheikh Mbodj turned the ball over.

Xavier was incompetent against Cincinnati’s full-court press. Dee Davis turned the ball over five times as he made dumb decision after dumb decision when trying to get the ball past half court. But Davis is not solely responsible for their offensive inefficiencies in clearing the Bearcats’ defense. The Musketeers never had more than one outlet option available for the point guard to pass the ball. This resulted in Davis and Christon frequently getting double teamed, which required acrobatic and dangerous passes just for Xavier to set up any offensive sets.

Cincinnati, the nation’s leading rebounding team, killed Xavier on the glass, 42-31, including 18 offensive rebounds. JaQuon Parker, Sean Kilpatrick and Titus Rubles gave the Bearcats opportunities for second chance points throughout the game, which was critical when Cincinnati was having such a poor shooting night.

Xavier lacks a go-to scorer, especially without Semaj Christon on the court. In Christon’s previous six games, he scored 18, 12, 25, 16, 23, and 18 points, but cramping in his left calf limited the freshman point guard to only 23 minutes and for all intensive purposes, ended Xavier’s hopes to win the 2012 Crosstown Classic. Travis Taylor scored 12 points on six for ten shooting but was the only Musketeer in double figures. XU’s offensive woes overcoming the Cincinnati full-court press and having 6’1″ shooting guard Brad Redford run the point prevented Xavier from going to Taylor in the second half. Where Xavier lacks in go-to scorers, Cincinnati thrives. Sean Kilpatrick scored 25 points and Cashmere Wright pitched in 15, as the Bearcats’ tandem of star guards almost scored as many points as the entire Musketeer lineup.

The Crosstown Classic showed that the rivalry can return to the competitive, yet family-friendly nature on which the city of Cincinnati prides itself. Additionally, Cincinnati is very likely overrated as the number eleven team in the country and Xavier still has a long way to go in order to guarantee itself a spot in the field of 68 teams for March Madness.

On a number of levels, it is great to have the first “Crosstown Classic” in the books. The game went smoothly and there wasn’t the slightest hint of animosity or aggressiveness on the scale of last year’s matchup. The rivalry will be played at U.S. Bank Arena next year and then the university presidents will meet to determine the future of the annual game. However, if and when it does return to the school’s campuses, Cincinnati will host the first game back.

Crosstown Classic Preview

On December 10th last year, the Cincinnati Bearcats and Xavier Musketeers met for the seventy-ninth time in the annual Crosstown Shootout. Xavier entered the game ranked eighth in the country and proved to be the better team in the rivalry with a 76-53 win but a brawl in the final seconds embarrassed both programs on a national level.

The future of the Crosstown Shootout was up in the air after multiple players from each team were suspended and a dark cloud settled over the city. School officials from the University of Cincinnati and Xavier University met and determined that the series would continue but at a neutral location and under a new name. The “Crosstown Shootout” went out the window and has been replaced with “Crosstown Classic.” The game has been moved off-campus to U.S. Bank Arena in downtown Cincinnati.

The brawl that ensued at the end of the 2011 Crosstown Shootout called for a change in venue and image in the annual Cincinnati rivalry. (Image courtesy of http://www.midwestsportsfans.com/2012/02/xavier-cincinnati-crosstown-shootout-may-be-a-burden-but-its-also-a-necessity/)
The brawl that ensued at the end of the 2011 Crosstown Shootout called for a change in venue and image in the annual Cincinnati rivalry. (Image courtesy of http://www.midwestsportsfans.com/2012/02/xavier-cincinnati-crosstown-shootout-may-be-a-burden-but-its-also-a-necessity/)

Cincinnati is entering the showdown in similar position to Xavier last season. The Bearcats are eleventh in AP Poll after a 10-0 start. Mick Cronin’s team is sixth in the country in scoring average and first in rebounds per game. Cincinnati junior guard Sean Kilpatrick is averaging 19.3 points and 6.2 rebounds per game, which leads the Bearcats in both categories.

Chris Mack and the Xavier Musketeers are 7-2, with the team’s only losses coming by three points on the road to Pacific and two points in overtime to Vanderbilt. The Musketeers are in a rebuilding year and in all likelihood, will exceed expectations this year. Xavier beat Butler by 15 points in mid-November and defeated Purdue on the road. Even though most of the Muskies’ production players from 2011-12 are no longer on the team, Semaj Christon, Dee Davis, Justin Martin, Travis Taylor and Jeff Robinson have stepped up to fill the voids left by Tu Holloway, Mark Lyons, Kenny Frease, and Dez Wells.

The Cincinnati Bearcats come into the game as an 8.5 point favorite and it would be no surprise if UC wins the game by twice that margin. Tonight’s matchup will be the toughest game of the season for the Musketeers and will give Xavier a chance to see where the team stands against one of the country’s elite programs.

Unproven Xavier Beats Butler for Its Second Win of the Season

The Xavier Musketeers had an abundance of questions being asked about them entering the season and they were all appropriate. Three starters, point guard Tu Holloway, forward Andre Walker, and center Kenny Frease, graduated after last season. Mark Lyons was unwilling to command the leadership role that Xavier Coach Chris Mack envisioned him to play in as a senior and transferred to the University of Arizona to join the No. 12 Wildcats. Dez Wells was expelled from Xavier University after a sexual assault charge was brought against him, which was later dropped. Wells transferred and is playing for Maryland.

2011-12 Xavier Musketeers
Xavier Musketeers 2012-13 Individual Statistics

Who did the Muskies have left on the 2012-13 roster? The leading scorer from last year is senior forward Travis Taylor, who averaged 4.5 points and 3.7 rebounds last season. In total, XU has 16.1 points per game from last year’s squad returning this season. A number of players are going to have to step up on a Musketeers team that is filled with freshmen, walk-ons, and players who have seen limited playing time in the past at Xavier.

Two games is a limited sample size but in that time span, the Xavier players have answered their call to action.

In the season opener against Fairleigh Dickinson, the Musketeers started the season with a 117-75 victory. Tu Holloway’s replacement, sophomore point guard Dee Davis, recorded a double-double with 22 points on 8-11 shooting (5-7 from behind the arc) and 15 assists. Six other Xavier players scored in double digits. Taylor scored twenty points, grabbed twelve rebounds, and dished out three assists. Senior shooting guard Brad Redford lit it up from behind the three-point line by hitting six of seven and finishing with nineteen points. XU shot over 70% from the field and connected on 62% of the three-point shots.

Dee Davis has big shoes to fill by replacing Tu Holloway. Courtesy of http://www.purdueexponent.org/sports/mens/basketball/collection_eb4a2b0e-1e08-11e1-a0c5-0019bb30f31a.html.

Xavier’s second game of the season was part of ESPN’s 2012 Tip-Off Marathon. The Muskies were matched up against the one of additions to the Atlantic 10, Brad Stevens’ Butler Bulldogs. XU showed that it could play up-tempo in the season opener and slowed the game down against Butler.

The Bulldogs have been known in recent years to win by playing tough defense and limiting their opponents to fewer than sixty points per game. When Butler made it to the 2010 NCAA National Championship, the team held their opponents to 59, 52, 59, 56, 50, and 61 points in the Bulldogs’ six games. In 2011, it was much of the same. They allowed an average of 61.3 points per game in their second consecutive appearance in the title game.

On Tuesday, Xavier beat Butler at their own game. The Musketeers gave up very few open shots or good looks. XU limited Butler to 36% shooting and 22% from behind the arc. Their defense harassed Butler for forty minutes. They rotated well on screens, rotated well, played good help-side defense, and switched effectively on pick and rolls. Senior forward Jeff Robinson led all scorers with seventeen points and he also collected eight rebounds. Freshman point guard Semaj Christon missed Xavier’s first game of the season because he elbowed walk-0n Tim Whelan, which knocked out two of Whelan’s teeth and caused Christon’s elbow to get infected. In his first game, Christon had a team-high eight assists. Travis Taylor recorded 15 points and 9 rebounds. Xavier’s largest lead was twenty-one and their transition offense ate up the Bulldogs’ defense.

It is very early in the season but XU is already exceeding expectations. They have shown they can score in triple-digits. They have shown that they can play shutdown defense. Now the Musketeers need to string together wins and prove themselves against respected opponents if they want to make the NCAA Tournament.

Where are the Xavier Musketeers Headed?

I love the Xavier Musketeers. I always have been a fan of the Musketeers but I can’t say that I always will be. The past eight months have left me questioning who Chris Mack’s squad is and for what they stand.

Of course there was the Crosstown Shootout brawl, where the rivalry and animosity of the annual competition became bigger than the fun tradition that Cincinnatians look forward to every December. The confrontations that occurred in the closing seconds were disappointing and the comments after the game by senior Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons were even more regrettable for the image of Xavier University. Luckily for Xavier, their season wasn’t a complete failure since they made the Sweet Sixteen and played Baylor close for the chance to match up against Kentucky.

However, since the 2011-12 season ended, the Muskies’ two best players are no longer enrolled at Xavier. Mark Lyons was not willing to be the leader and team player that coach Chris Mack asked him to be in the upcoming season and he transferred to the University of Arizona to play for former Xavier coach Sean Miller. Then, sophomore Dez Wells was expelled from the university this past week for breaking an unspecified code of conduct.

Courtesy of http://www.musketeermadness.com/article.asp?gameID=1203991

If Xavier wants to keep up their men’s basketball tradition, including four Sweet Sixteen appearances in the past five years and seven straight NCAA Tournament appearances, they have to continue recruiting great players, but why have XU’s recent stars had so much extra baggage that is unparalleled in the team’s past? Is it a fundamental flaw in Xavier University’s men’s basketball program, such as the coaching staff and expectations, or did the Musketeers just get unlucky by having multiple players with selfish and alternate agendas on the roster at the same time?

Without a doubt, it is going to be a treacherous road ahead for the Xavier Musketeers.They lost their top five players from last season. In addition to Lyons and Wells, the Muskies graduated Holloway, Kenny Frease, and Andre Walker. The returning players averaged a total of 16.8 points per game last season and there will be a lot of expectations for the incoming freshman class. Semaj Christon is their highest ranked recruit as the third best point guard in the 2012 recruiting class. Christon’s teammate from Brewster Academy, Jalen Reynolds, is a 6’8″ 220 lb. power forward and four-star recruit. Xavier is also bringing in Myles Davis, a 6’1″ shooting guard from Fitchburg, Massachusetts, and James Farr, a 6’8″ power forward who played at the Maine Central Institute.

Courtesy of http://cincyprephoopsreport.blogspot.com/2011/01/stars-of-favc.html. There are high expectations for Semaj Christon in the 2012-13 season.

Despite the freshman talent the Muskies added to their roster, it will be a long year for them and may be for the next several years. Who is the team’s go-to scorer? Who will talk during a timeout or in the locker room to get the Musketeers pumped up for a big game? Which player will keep the others in line and make sure that they are at school for the right reasons? These questions and more still need to be answered in the next few months. In the mean time, Xavier needs to use the next few years to rebuild their program on and off the court in order to improve their reputation to one that makes alumni and fans proud to say that Xavier is their team.