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What Needs to happen: Part One

The Xavier basketball program is well off track at the moment. This is part one of a story on how to get things back to where they were just 16 months ago.

We’ve indulged in a bit of doom and gloom here recently. Losing Mark Lyons, Dez Wells, Myles Davis, and Jalen Reynolds will do that to you. It’s no secret that things are not going to be business as usual at the Cintas Center this year. This is, almost without question, shaping up to be the worst team the Xavier Musketeers have sent onto the court in three decades. “Easy wins” in the form of Fairleigh Dickinson and Pacific now look like serious tests for a seriously depleted roster. This is not going to be a good year, it just isn’t.

But it is easy to sit back and complain and not address the issues. The reason this season seems so dreadful (before it even happens) is because Xavier fans expect the best from their team. Read Xavier message boards around the internet and you will find the ungrateful complaining about Chris Mack taking two of his last three teams to within a combined total of ten points from two Elite Eight trips. Successes that would have carried the program for years as recently as the 1980s have become commonplace, and so become unappreciated. With this as the background, Xavier must quickly and effectively change the narrative or risk becoming irrelevant in a basketball society used to Musketeer wins.

#1. Solve the recruiting issue: Chris Mack has come just agonizingly short of the Elite Eight twice, that is not debatable. Also germane to the issue of the current Xavier roster is the fact that Mack is yet to have done it with “his” players. Much is made in college sports of winning with players that the coach has brought in himself. Regardless of how much coaching it may take to get any group of players into the Sweet 16 or Elite Eight, a coach simply doesn’t get as much credit unless he does it with “his” guys. It makes no sense, but that is just the way it is.

As Joel explained last week, Coach Mack has been underwhelming so far at bringing in his guys. Jeff Robinson, Jay Canty, Jordan Latham, Griffin McKenzie, Justin Martin, Michael Chandler, D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera, Sim Bhullar, Chris Thomas, Myles Davis and Jalen Reynolds have all committed to Xavier without much (anything?) to show for it since Mack came on board. That is swinging and missing the likes of which Cincinnati hasn’t seen since Adam Dunn was in town. Unlike Dunn, though, Chris Mack has yet to hit a massive amount of home runs. The caveat, of course, is that Dez Wells was even better than expected and Mack lost him only through the anachronistic Xavier discipline system.
Coach Mack doesn’t have the luxury of hoping that Myles Davis, Jalen Reynolds, Dee Davis and Semaj Christon all pan out and 2012-13 is forgotten because he has to…

#2 Win something this year: Duke, UK, Michigan State, and Kansas have down years, it happens to every program. What doesn’t happen to those programs are CBI invitations and strings of five or six straight losses. Xavier, famously, refused to be looked at as a mid-major just four years ago. Finishing ninth behind the likes of La Salle will damage Xavier’s national standing greatly. A ten win season won’t finish the program off, but it will hurt recruiting, recognition, and the standing of a burgeoning power program.

Including the Anaheim Classic, Xavier has 30 games on the schedule this year. At least 15 of those must be wins, power teams simply do not suffer through seasons in which they finish under .500. Xavier itself has not finished under .500 since the 13-15 effort of 1995-96. Even the seemingly dreadful start to the Sean Miller era ended with a 17-12 mark. Looking at the roster and the schedule, it’s tough to see where the (at least) 15 wins will come, but they absolutely must. An NIT bid would go a long way toward showing that even down years at Xavier don’t mean absolute disaster. A win over Vanderbilt or a sweep of Butler would be an immeasurable boost to the program.

#3. Find a positive for this year: A big win, a Crosstown Shootout victory, Semaj Christon scoring 30 in a game, James Farr averaging six rebounds, Dee Davis with an assist/turnover ratio of 2:1, or a run through the Atlantic 10 schedule, Xavier needs something for the 2012-13 season to keep people watching and plugged in to the team. Do you remember Tu Holloway’s triple-doubles? Mark Lyons carrying Xavier to a triple overtime win over Wofford? Justin Cage burying a three to sink St. Joseph’s? Of course, because you were watching each game to see what would happen.

Xavier needs a hook this year. The Cintas Center has been rated, repeatedly, as one of the most difficult places in America to come play. The Musketeers dominate on their home court in front of a energetic and enthusiastic crowd. Now, imagine the Cintas Center as Xavier struggles through a double digit loss to Dayton on the last day of January, or squeaks by Fordham in mid-February. Both of those are likely outcomes and both mean that Xavier fans need a reason to come and cheer. Be it development, an unlikely string of wins, or one electrifying player, the Musketeers have to give their fans a reason to fill seats and make noise this year. The offseason off court has been an unmitigated disaster, without something positive happening this year, the summer of our discontent stretches into a very long, grey winter.

While those three steps would be key to keeping Xavier pointed in the right direction, they are hardly all that can be done. On Monday this story will continue with another set of things that need to happen to help Xavier University change the narrative and get back on the right track.