Part two of a two part series. Check here for part one, the 2004 Run.
An at-large bid is gone. Xavier, for the first time in a long time, isn't on the bubble, isn't in the bracket, isn't anywhere. This season started badly almost as soon as the last one ended, and hasn't really gotten a whole lot better. Now, Xavier needs four wins in four days to make the NCAA tournament. After a relatively tame draw with St. Joseph's in the first round of the Atlantic 10, the VCU Rams wait if the Musketeers win.
This isn't the first time that Xavier has been staring down the barrel of a nearly impossible task in order to make the NCAA tournament. In both 2004 and 2006, Xavier won four games in four days in the A10 tournament to grab an NCAA bid that was anything but a certainty throughout the season. Those teams (especially the 2004 squad) have gone down in Xavier lore because of their efforts. To fully understand the task ahead of these Musketeers, it's helpful to look at the past.
The 2006 Run
The 2004 run was set up, as we previously discussed, by a very good team getting off to a shaky start. In the 2005-2006 season, that wasn't the case at all. Xavier came out of the gates absolutely on fire for Coach Sean Miller. A 12-2 start was blemished only by a three point loss at Illinois, and a two point loss at Creighton. The Musketeers were already 3-0 when they beat UC to cap off non conference play. Then, the wheels fell off.
A 2-5 stretch followed that win and hit its nadir when Brian Thornton was injured against La Salle. The Musketeers finished the season 17-10 after their 12-2 start and suffered two losses to a bad Saint Louis team, and equally damaging losses to Dayton and UMass. In a February 10th edition of Bubble Watch, ESPN devoted nary a word to Xavier. A month later the worldwide leader encourage bubble team fans to cheer for George Washington so the A 10 didn't send more than one team to the tournament. Xavier wasn't even in the discussion for an at large. It was truly win or go home for four straight days in the A10 tournament.
Xavier opened with UMass, a team that had beaten them by nine only four days prior. The Musketeers took a 12 point lead to the locker room and hung on for a 75-66 win behind 22 from sophomore guard Stanley Burrell. Next came Charlotte and a real scare. Xavier led at the half, stretched the lead to eight with 10 minutes to play, and then collapsed. (Sound familiar?) Charlotte led by four with three minutes to play before an 8-0 run gave Xavier a lead they wouldn't relinquish.
Fordham was the opponent in the semi final and this time Xavier warmed to the game and then slowly put it away. Josh Duncan went for 20/7/0 and put Xavier only a game away from the tournament. Waiting in that game was St. Joe's. The Hawks also needed a miracle to make the tournament , but came out flat, allowing Xavier to build a 13 point lead in the first half. By halftime the lead was down to four, and with seven minutes to play it was St. Joseph's leading by 10. Inexorably though, the Musketeers clawed their way back. Stan Burrell and Justin Cage accounted for all ten of Xavier's points in a 10-3 run that tied it with only 1:45 to play. The Hawks took the lead back at 61-60 before Justin Doellman free throws and a Justin Cage block sealed the win and a bid to the NCAAs.
Similarities to the 12-13 Musketeers: 1, Don't force turnovers. Both teams prefer not to gamble and instead force opponents to take contested shots. In the 2006 season the packline defense (really an adaptation of Thad Matta's man to man) was Xavier's primary defensive look. That system is still largely in place today. 2. A high scoring guard carrying the load. In 2006 it was Stanley Burrell, this year it is Semaj Christon. Stan originally benefited from having Brian Thornton in the post, but the big man's injury left the guard as the primary option. In six of the 11 games after Thornton went down, Stanley led the team in scoring. Burrell also led the team in assists. 3. Struggled to close games. The 06 squad season long issues with closing nearly bit them for good in the conference tournament, but they solved the puzzle just in time.
Differences from the 12-13 Musketeers: Again, the differences are too numerous to list. Despite that pitiful midseason swoon, the Musketeers managed to be an elite offense (109.7 efficiency), shoot the ball well, take care of the ball, scored from deep, and assisted on an absurd 64.5% of made baskets.
Not all differences are bad, though. The 06 team didn't hit the glass nearly as well as the current version of the Musketeers, were two and a half points worse in adjust defensive efficiency, and somehow had more than 10% of their shots blocked.
Verdict: While the 2006 team wasn't the powerhouse of 2004, it's still better than this year's team. The ability to score from deep (28.6% of points) meant that the 2006 Muskies always had a puncher's chance. A fanatical attention to keeping the ball and two point, three point, and free throw shooting percentages all in the top 70 in the nation go to show how much more powerful the 2006 offense really was.
Can The Run happen again?
No. The run of 2004 was a great team hitting stride at the right time. The 2006 run came from a team that could score in bunches but lost its way a bit when its star player was injured. Thankfully, Xavier doesn't need either of those teams to win again. What Xavier needs is a 2012-13 run that someone down the line breaks down. Is it probable? Of course not, but it wasn't probable that the other two would happen either. They did though, and that's why there is still hope for this season.