On March 23rd of this year, Xavier was preparing to take the floor against Baylor. The Musketeers featured one of the best backcourts in the nation, a dynamic freshman at the three, a senior glue guy at the power forward, and a seven-footer enjoying a late-career surge anchoring it all inside. The bench was well-stocked with players who knew their roles, from the 5'10" energy guard to the enigmatic duo that backed up the interior positions.
Three of the players who took the floor that night were scheduled exhaust their eligibility at the end of the season, but Coach Mack had restocked with another good recruiting class - ranked in the top 20 in the nation. The backcourt was being replaced by top 100 guard Semaj Christon and shooter Myles Davis. James Farr and Jalen Reynolds represented the kind of stretch four player that had tormented Xavier. The future seemed ready to absorb the losses from graduations and move forward to compete in the revamped A-10.
Then it all started to fall apart. Then it continued to fall apart. Now the official Xavier roster lists eight scholarship players. How did we get from there to here? The timeline below the jump begins to tell the story, but there's more to it than just what happened when.
March 23 - Xavier falls 75-70 to Baylor, ending the careers of Tu Holloway, Kenny Frease, and Andre Walker.
April 4 - Griffin McKenzie announces he is transferring, freeing up a scholarship Xavier will use to pursue Alex Oriakhi.
April 5 - Former top recruit Chris Thomas commits to Xavier but will spend the upcoming season at Chipola Community College.
April 14 - Oriakhi announces he is going to join the Missouri basketball program.
April 23 - A statement is released announcing Mark Lyons will be transferring, leaving a Mark Lyons-shaped hole.
April 25 - Big-bodied center Matt Stainbrook transfers in from Western Michigan but will sit out the upcoming season per the NCAA's transfer rules.
August 14 - After a few relatively uneventful months, I speculate that there is an amount of uncertainty around the X program not seen in recent years. How little I knew then.
August 21 - The wheels begin to come off with Dez Wells' expulsion.
August 21 - In timing that is almost surely coincidental, news comes out that Chris Cantino has joined the Xavier program. It should be noted that Cantino is not currently on the official Xavier roster.
August 24 - I speculate that Xavier expelled Wells because the school wears the white hat.
August 28 - Hamilton County Prosecutor puts the lie to that theory by declining to bring charges against Wells.
August 29 - If you read only one article about the whole debacle, make it this excellent summation.
September 12 - News breaks that Myles Davis will not be eligible, despite the fact that the classes that cost him his eligibility did not have the same impact on eight other players in those classes.
September 14 - News breaks that Jalen Reynolds will not be eligible.
September 15 - Xavier takes drastic measures.
Everyone all caught up now? Good. The question remains: how did we get here? Was it bad luck, bad judgement, or a mixture of both? The way I see it, six things happened this season that were mostly outside of the control of the basketball program. They are:
- The three seniors graduated.
- Griffin McKenzie transferred.
- Oriakhi chose not to join Xavier.
- Wells was expelled.
- Davis was ruled a non-qualifier.
- Reynolds was ruled a non-qualifier.
Along with those things, the basketball program made the following moves:
- Allowed (or encouraged) the transfer of Mark Lyons.
- Used a 2012-2013 scholarship on Matt Stainbrook.
- Used a 2012-2013 scholarship on Chris Cantino (pending his addition to the roster).
That's it. Should Xavier have done something differently? It's hard to say. You can't fault the program for the graduations; that just happens. Griffin McKenzie's transfer was a net positive for the team. Oriakhi's decision, while disappointing, was certainly understandable. Rounding out the happenings on which I believe the program should get a pass, Dez Wells' expulsion was both unpredictable and not the decision of the basketball program. If you think any of these events should be laid at the feet of Mack and his program - and there are arguments to be made along those lines - that's what the comments section is for.
The two players being ruled non-qualifiers are a little more questionable in my mind. Neither Davis nor Reynolds went to prep school because they weren't ready to play Division One basketball. Both of them had some questions about their academic standing that they were trying to clear up by putting an extra year on their transcripts.There aren't a lot of details available just yet regarding Reynolds, but the link above seems to indicate that there was reason to expect that Davis' questionable classes would not keep him from playing.
That leaves us with the three active moves the program made. At the time of Lyons' transfer, it looked like a case of a program and a player finding mutual terms upon which to move on. Maybe Mack felt like Lyons' departure would be addition by subtraction, or maybe Lyons was just that adamant about whatever role he saw himself playing. Either way, this is the first of the decisions that I think might have been advisable not to make. Letting your leading returning scorer leave is always a risky decision; the King of Upstate might look really nice on that roster right now.
It's hard to find too much wrong with the other two moves, especially taken in concert with the rest of the events of the summer. Neither move kept Xavier out of the running for another player by occupying the last remaining scholarship. Both addressed needs for the program. It is only within the context of the rest of the disastrous summer that they appear insufficient.
But, like Danny Kaffee said, it's about assigning blame. So how do you see it? Is Xavier in this situation because of plain bad luck? Or was it poor preparation that landed a perennial Sweet Sixteen program in such an unenviable position?