Today starts our look back at the 2011-2012 Xavier season. This season was unlike any other in Xavier basketball history. Never had a Musketeers team started with such high expectations or struggled through such adversity. In a three part series, we'll look at the promising beginning, the Shootout and the fallout, and then the final run to the Sweet Sixteen. When that concludes, we'll take a look forward at the incoming class. Tomorrow, we'll take a look back at the hastily assembled 2010 class, now down to just Justin Martin.
This Xavier season started with more reason for optimism than perhaps any other. Reigning Atlantic 10 player of the year Tu Holloway had returned for a senior season, Mark Lyons, Justin Martin, Dez Wells, and Brad Redford joined him to make an explosive and supremely talented backcourt. In the frontcourt, Kenny Frease began his senior campaign flanked by newcomers Travis Taylor and Andre Walker, as well as junior Jeff Robinson. For the first time on the blue side of Cincinnati, the Final Four seemed possible.
Things got off to a bit of a rocky start though. Holloway was suspended early on for the extremely severe violation of playing too much basketball in the summer. Kenny Frease didn't miss any games, but was also suspended before the season even started. Thankfully, Morgan State was the first team on the slate. It wasn't a dominating win, but a high flying left handed dunk from Dez Wells made sure the 2011-12 season started in the right way.From there, things only got better. IPFW put up just the amount of fight they were supposed to, very little, and even consistent in-state menace/rival Miami went down. Next, Georgia succumbed to a 35-8 run as Xavier stretched the season starting perfection to four games. The first hiccup came against Vanderbilt. The Musketeers played sloppily and trailed by ten in the second half. A rally and a dominant overtime from Tu Holloway ensured that Xavier left with a win, but the offensive malaise that hit the team in the first half would be a recurring story.
The season long subplot of improbable comebacks continued in the very next game. Purdue ripped open a 19 point lead with less than 10 minutes to go. Xavier was on the ropes at home and not looking much like coming back. The Musketeers turned the ball over 18 times in a single half, made barely half of their free throws, and were dead an buried with ten to play. Despite that, they won. Tu Holloway was a killer down the stretch, attacking a Boilermaker defense that couldn't handle his drive late in the game. (Video here).
In the wake of the Purdue win, however, it was obvious something was wrong. Xavier had only put Georgia away early in the game. A five point lead against IPFW at the half, and deficits to Miami, Vandy, and Purdue spoke to a focus issue that was threatening to become more. On top of that, long stretches without touches for Kenny Frease had, at times, stagnated Xavier's guard oriented offense. Brad Redford was struggling to find his way back into the offense, and more and more the Musketeers were relying on Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons.
Butler was next up, and succumbed to 33-17 and 11-2 runs. Kenny Frease was again limited by foul trouble, but the turnovers and slow offense didn't seem as prevalent. A 73-61 win erased the Hinkle Fieldhouse demons of the clock game. Suddenly, the Musketeers were 7-0, in the top ten in both major polls, and looking completely unbeatable. The next game on the slate was the marquee non-conference game of the year, the Crosstown Shootout.