What up Friartown!
I know we’re all bummed over the Ledo news yesterday (and believe me, an article on that is coming like a bat out of hell) but for now it’s best to distract ourselves from the tragedy and focus on the good. And the good is we’re still going to a new conference with a TON of opportunity for us to compete, with our without Ledo.
It’s this conference. I know, confusing if you haven’t been paying attention to how it all works.
So we should probably know who we’re competing against.
In our last entry in the three-part series we talked to Banners on the Parkway (@BannersParkway), the Xavier Musketeers blog that represents all things Ohio (you know, since we gave the other Ohio brethren the boot). Brad and Joel took the time to answer some of our questions about all things Xavier, so let’s see what they had to see after the jump!
WarriorFriar: Let’s talk about head coach Chris Mack – he’s certainly been around the program long enough both as an assistant and a head coach (first from 99-01 under Skip Prosser, and again under Sean Miller from 04-09, then taking the reins for himself in 09). During this team he’s seen quite a bit of success including both of Xavier’s Elite 8 runs in 04 and 08, and getting the Musketeers to the Sweet 16 in 2010 and 2012. There’s no denying his success, so what’s his secret?
Brad: I think the players really seem to relate to Coach Mack. With the admittedly notable exception of Mark Lyons, there isn’t anyone that Mack doesn’t seem to get the best out of. Jordan Crawford arrived as an unrepentant gunner and left as an unrepentant gunner who had learned how and when to carry his team. Tu Holloway and Lyons were both mostly ineffective as freshman and left as NBA calibre guards. Brad Redford and Landen Amos both really made a jump this year. Coach Mack clearly knows how to work with players and get the best from them. He also dances frequently, runs a hilarious Twitter @CoachChrisMack, and made a “Call Me Maybe” video back when that was cool. I think not seeming as old as other coaches helps him connect with his players.
Joel: There is a split in opinion around the Xavier fan base regarding Mack’s success. There’s a segment of the population that would tell you his secret is a mix of blind luck and Sean Miller’s players. I think one of his strengths is in getting perimeter players in positions to have success. There have been questions about his underutilization of big men in his ball screen offense, but the success of Jordan Crawford, Tu Holloway, Mark Lyons, and Semaj Christon would seem to indicate that he knows what to do with a player who has the ball in his hands. He’s also done a good job of getting value out of limited players, turning shooter Brad Redford into a very good weapon despite a limited skill set and getting important minutes out of walk-on Landen Amos as a defensive stopper.
WF: You guys aren’t any strangers to the Big East with your rival Cincinnati having been around for…who even cares anymore, they’re not around now (enjoy football)! What’s it been like for fans to know that the Big East name is going to be on their home court now?
Brad: Someone Photoshopped the logo on to a picture of the Cintas Center and that got some good run on Twitter. I think people are excited about Madison Square Garden, name recognition, and not taking that ratings hit from playing Fordham twice. Of course, the MSM has been trying to ruin some of that by talking about the death of the Big East as we know it and absurd stuff like that, as if the college sporting landscape hasn’t been shifting for years.
Joel: It’s a big step, but it’s also a little bit of an adjustment. I think the Xavier fan base is almost reflexively defensive regarding the term “mid-major” while at the same time wearing the team’s success while outside of the big conferences as a badge of honor. Jumping into the Big East, there’s almost a “wait, that’s us now” feel to it when people start talking about major conference college hoops. With the facilities and success X had, they weren’t a true mid-major on the scale of some other teams from the A-10, but now it’s time to step up with the big boys. The invite to join this conference is another validation of the wonderful work the people who set the direction for this program have done.
WF: I like word games, so let’s play one – what words would you use to describe your team and the players you recruit? Cutthroat and scrappy, refined like nice wine, something else entirely?
Brad: Flux. For years the Musketeers were a talented team that was somehow more than the sum of its parts. Gary Lumpkin, Lenny Brown, BJ Raymond, and Dante Jackson aren’t NBA names, but they all played on teams that made the Elite Eight or knocked off number one. Xavier used to be the underdog no one wanted. I think Jordan Crawford started to change things. Even before him we’d produced NBA talent (David West, most notably), but Crawford was on a mission to play in the league and saw Xavier as the best place to further that. He passed on a mantle of swagger that Holloway and Lyons took up with ease. For a couple years there, we transitioned from the underdog to the bully of the Atlantic 10. We were the best, and we were going to let you know that. Tu is gone now, Lyons is gone, and the team is kind of searching for that new identity.
Joel: Transition is a word I like for this team for a couple of reasons. First of all, star guard Semaj Christon has a gear in the open court that few people can match. Coach Mack has been reticent to run at times in the past, but the squad he has assembled is very athletic and I think he’ll come off the brakes a bit this year. This team is going to be fun to watch on the run.
WF: For your fans the move from the A-10 to the Big East has to mean a lot; will we be seeing the Musketeer loyalists traveling in herds to all the away games?
Brad: Yes. Xavier fans travel well anyway. I believe it was at Fordham this year that the “Let’s Go X!” chants were louder than the home crowd, and the traveling support made a good show at the Hinkle Barn too. That’s obviously not going to be as easy at say, Georgetown, but it’s safe to expect there to be a lot of blue at road games. What is really unique about Xavier (I think) is that Coach Mack brings his family to most road games. He and Christi have two young girls that make an appearance on the road all the time. Of course, that didn’t go so well at Dayton, but that’s Dayton, so what can you do?
Joel: For a smaller school, Xavier travels fairly well. The other upper midwest schools – Butler, DePaul, Marquette, and Creighton – should see a good number of the Muskie faithful showing up to games. Having been in the A-10, that little jaunt to the east coast isn’t a big deal to some of the Xavier fans, either. I think X will be well-represented on the road in the Big East.
WF: College basketball is special for a lot of reasons, at the top of that list though is the student section. Tell me about what makes Xavier’s student section unique?
Brad: It isn’t really just the student section at X. Yes, there are dudes dressed like the pope and a lot of blue body paint, but the entire Cintas Center gets pretty loud. One of the best things about catching a game there is knowing that really exuberant cheering isn’t going to be frowned upon in some sections. Xavier is very, very difficult to beat at home, and the fact that the whole crowd is into the game is one of the reasons.
Joel: There’s popes and guys in blue and white paint and all manner of creative signs. One of the best things about the Xavier student section, though, is that it’s part of 10,000+ screaming, passionate fans for home dates. The Cintas Center has made appearances on various lists of the most difficult places to play for opposing teams not just because of the Xavier student section, but because there’s something about the team and the school that makes people continually show up and get loud long after their student IDs have expired.
WF: Who doesn’t love a good rivalry? Obviously your rivalry with the Bearcats won’t be going away, but it’s fun to have in conference rivals too. In this new conference who’s going to be a heated foe of the Musketeers?
Brad: Butler. Let me tell you something about Butler; I hate them. I despise having to clear the cows out before a game can be played, I hate that their fans talk a good game but go silent for large stretches, I don’t like the media hype, I don’t like the “we’re so scrappy” vibe they try to cultivate, I hate the homecourt officiating they get, and I hate that they can’t even run a clock correctly. Butler is Duke-West, only not as good at basketball. I despise Syracuse too, but I guess that will have to stay as a non-conference loathing.
Joel: Butler. Xavier has been playing the Bulldogs for a few years now, both in and out of conference, and there’s not much love lost between the fan bases. Historic Hinkle Fieldhouse has been likened to a barn by visitors, and the impromptu plumbing job that Kenny Frease did a few years back was not considered a renovation. A little bit of it is jealousy regarding Butler’s recent tournament success and favored status by the media, a little bit of it because there always seem to be clock issues there that break in Butler’s favor, and a lot of it just plain not liking them. When those two teams square off in the Big East this coming season, it’s going to be a red-letter day for Xavier fans.