Xavier takes first step after tough offseason
November, 13, 2012
By Myron Medcalf | ESPN.com
It’s too soon to glean any substantial benefits from Xavier’s 62-47 victory over Atlantic 10 foe Butler -- the game did not count toward their mark in conference -- with the exception of one. Given the Musketeers’ turbulent offseason, one that followed a frenetic regular season in 2011-12, Tuesday’s win will boost the morale of a team with a new, albeit forced, persona.
“We took a good step forward today,” coach Chris Mack told ESPN.com. “It gave our guys a shot of confidence. But we know there’s work to do.”
Mack’s program lost nearly 80 percent of its offensive production from last season. Some of those reductions were natural.
Both Tu Holloway and Kenny Frease exhausted their eligibility. Other departures, however, were less seamless. Mark Lyons abruptly transferred to Arizona. Dezmine Wells was dismissed following sexual assault allegations. A grand jury decided against pursuing charges, but he ultimately joined Mark Turgeon at Maryland.
Plus, two former assistant coaches left Mack’s staff.
So the team’s circumstances demanded a fresh start.
And a dominating win over Butler in the Cintas Center in Cincinnati offered the Musketeers that chance to move forward from the last calendar year’s mess.
There’s no way of knowing how much the Musketeers will progress -- or regress -- over time, but they’ve clearly ignored the early projections that placed them at the bottom of the Atlantic 10.
“We have a group of guys in the locker room that we go to war with every day,” Xavier forward Jeff Robinson told ESPN.com. “We know what we’re capable of. Everybody that’s doubting us hasn’t been in the locker room. … It’s all guessing.”
Butler did all of the guessing on Tuesday. The perennially stubborn Bulldogs (28th in defensive efficiency in 2011-12) allowed the Musketeers to shoot a 50 percent clip from the field.
Brad Stevens’ program couldn’t establish any pattern that led to consistent production on offense, either. The Bulldogs made just four of their 18 3-point attempts.
Robinson and his teammates took credit for those mishaps. On film, Robinson said, Xavier noticed that Rotnei Clarke (3-for-11, seven points) and Khyle Marshall (3-for-10, seven points) had a lot of freedom in Butler’s season-opening win over Elon Saturday.
“We emphasized just chasing those guys to make sure they didn’t get open looks,” Robinson said. “Our guards did a great job of doing that.”
It was a refreshing moment for a squad that didn’t have many following last season’s run in the NCAA tournament.
The program’s problems started with a December brawl in a rivalry game against Cincinnati. Multiple suspensions and a fall from the national rankings followed that melee. Xavier eventually picked itself up and reached the Sweet 16 but any sense of satisfaction didn’t last long. Mack had lost key members and staffers from that team within months.
The new Musketeers don’t feature any household names or national player of the year candidates. They’re mostly anonymous, a rare trait for a program that’s advanced to the Sweet 16 four of the past five seasons and sent Jordan Crawford and David West to the NBA.
By the end of 2012-13, Travis Taylor and Robinson, two seniors who combined to score 32 points, could land on the national radar. They were two of five Musketeers who scored nine or more points on Tuesday. A team that appeared to be fractured this offseason was united against Butler.
“We went to work,” Mack said. “We had a lot of guys that spent the entire summer here. They lifted, they played together. They really worked hard to get to this point and I think there’s a belief in one another.”