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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Xavier has history of reaching Sweet Sixteen on its side

    Just like the Marquette Golden Eagles, the Xavier Musketeers will be making their sixth consecutive appearance in the NCAA Tournament.

    They’re two of only 12 teams in this year’s field that can make such a claim, an impressive feat for a pair of small, Jesuit schools from the upper Midwest that normally fly under the national radar.

    The teams’ post season paths diverge drastically from there, though.

    Whereas 11th-seeded Marquette will be looking to make it out of the first round for just the third time in those six years, sixth-seeded Xavier has thoughts of continuing an incredible run that’s seen it advance to the Sweet 16 in each of the last three years and four times in the last seven.

    Perennial Big Ten powerhouse Michigan State is the only other team that can match the Musketeers’ recent run of three straight Sweet 16 appearances. The success is a source of pride for the Cincinnati school, and the experience invaluable for its players.

    “”I think it means something,”” said second-year coach Chris Mack, a captain on Xavier’s 1993 team that advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

    “”I think it helps give your kids a sense of what to expect — the routine, the understanding of win or go home. I think it certainly helps. I’d rather have tournament experience than not.””

    Senior guard Dante Jackson will already have 10 — count them, 10 — NCAA Tournament games under his belt before the teams even tip off in their second-round game at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland on Friday night.

    Juniors Tu Holloway, Jamel McLean and Kenny Frease each have played in six NCAA Tournament games, senior Andrew Taylor in four and sophomore Mark Lyons in three.

    That’s 35 games of Big-Dance experience among Xavier’s five starters and a key reserve. Compare that with MU, whose most experienced player in the post season, Jimmy Butler, has played in a total of three NCAA Tournament games.

    “”It’s been since my freshman year, making the run that we made, and I’ve been able to take from that and try to lead our team the past couple years,”” Jackson said. “”I’m going to try to do the same this year. It’s been a joy.””

    The Musketeers (24-7) won the regular-season championship in the Atlantic 10 after going 15-1, and rose as high as No. 18 in The Associated Press’ media poll last week before falling to Dayton, 68-67, in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament.

    Xavier has built its success in recent years with some savvy recruiting sprinkled with a few NBA players (forward Derrick Brown and most recently guard Jordan Crawford), combined with an incredible run of coaches that’s included Skip Prosser, Thad Matta, Sean Miller and now Mack.

    The 41-year-old Mack, who was named the conference’s coach of the year, has pushed all the right buttons. The Musketeers enter their contest with MU having lost just three times in 2011.

    Helping matters has been the incredible season turned in by Holloway, a 6-foot, 185-pound junior guard who was named the A-10’s player of the year.

    His numbers have been off-the-charts good: 20.2 points, 5.1 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 1.5 steals per game to go along with 59 three-pointers and his incredible ability to draw fouls and make free throws.

    “”I’d say that Tu is a very clutch player,”” said Mack. “”He makes big-time plays in moments that you need a player of his caliber to make. He’s been that way, really, since his freshman year.””

    Joining Holloway in the backcourt are Lyons (6-1) and Jackson (6-5), with McLean (6-8) and Frease (7-0) rounding out the starting lineup.

    Each of those players had a hand in the teams’ last meeting, a first-round game in the Old Spice Classic in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., on Nov. 26, 2009, that was won by MU, 71-61.

    Crawford and big man Jason Love were the focal points in that game, though, and the Musketeers will have a much different look this time around when they face the Golden Eagles.

    “”We were a different team even at the end of last season than we were in that tournament in Orlando,”” Mack said. “”I think our principles are very much the same.

    “”Offensively, we’re running a lot of different things than we were a year ago, and I think it fits our personnel just a little bit better. We certainly set more ball screens in the half court than we did a year ago.

    “”I still think we have a competitive group, some tough kids — as does (MU) — and I think it’s going to be one of the best first-round games in the tournament.””

    The teams’ recent meeting belies a much longer history. In fact, this will be the 61st meeting between the schools with MU leading, 45-15.

    They’ve met once previously in the post season, with host Xavier winning a first-round National Invitation Tournament game, 67-63, on March 15, 2000.

    MU and Xavier went 2-5 against three common opponents this season: Gonzaga, Cincinnati and Seton Hall.

    The Golden Eagles split with Seton Hall and lost to Gonzaga and Cincinnati, while the Musketeers lost to Gonzaga and Cincinnati while defeating Seton Hall, 57-52.


    Xavier’s Tu Holloway is 233 for 268 from the free-throw line (86.9 percent) . By comparison, MU’s Jimmy Butler, the Golden Eagles’ leader in those categories, has attempted 228 free throws.

    Xavier coach Chris Mack played in the NCAA Tournament at both Evansville and Xavier. He also coached in the tournament as an assistant at Xavier and Wake Forest before taking over as the Musketeers’ head coach last season. He’s won at least one NCAA tourney game at every stop.

    Xavier needs one more win to reach 25 for the fifth straight year and eighth in the last 10.

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