Local sportswriter Terry Pluto frequently runs lists of things that he thinks. More often than not, given the state of Cleveland sports, these turn into musings on exactly what is going wrong at the current moment. What it helps with is getting a grasp on stories, how you see them, and what they mean. Maybe nothing groundbreaking ever comes of this, but as a mental exercise, it helps to get things down on paper. To that end, here are 10 things I think about the Xavier Musketeers basketball program.
1. I think the program is still going the right direction- No one can dispute the rise of Xavier since the days of Pete Gillen. Gone are the times of being happy to make the tournament, now anything less than a Sweet 16 is a disappointment. In the last eight years the school has accounted for two Elite Eight and five Sweet 16 trips. Prior to that, Xavier had made the Sweet 16 exactly once.
2. I think this year has slowed progress- This is a culture that has somehow moved even past a "what have you done for me lately" outlook to a "what are you doing for me right now" frame of mind. Right now, what Xavier is doing is taking hits at an unprecedented rate. Losing Mark Lyons, Dez Wells, Myles Davis, and Jalen Reynolds is doing damage, no matter what the most dedicated of optimists might tell you.
3. I'm not sure what to think about Coach Mack- Joel's excellent piece of last week laid out a bit of the case for and against Mack. Whether by bad luck or bad judgement, Xavier is in a bit of trouble this year. That said, Mack has consistently won. Critics snipe at him for faults real and imagined, by Chris Mack has never failed to deliver either a Sweet 16 berth or a conference championship. That's an impressive run. It's also a run done with players brought in partially by other coaches. Mack's first chance to do it all on his own was this year.
4. I think I'm going to miss seeing Dez Wells develop- Tu Holloway was special because he got every last bit out of his talent. Dez Wells is going to be special because he simply has an amazing amount of talent. Wells learned from a real leader last year, this year was his chance to take an immensely talented but young team under his wing.
5. I think I'm still excited for the first game- Xavier tips the season the 9th of November against Fairleigh Dickinson. Whether it is morbid curiosity or not I'm not certain, but I can't wait to see how Xavier comes out in that game. Is Brad Redford's 4:52 mile the sign of a major increase in footspeed? Is Dee Davis ready to run a team? Can Semaj Christon score enough to cover the offensive issues? Is there a real post on this team? All of that starts to get answered on that day.
6. I think this team needs Mark Lyons- If there was ever anyone who thought that no obstacle was insurmountable with the right mix of braggadocio and swagger, it was Lyons. This team has to be reeling right now. Having someone around who is convinced that there is no problem he can't solve, regardless of the evidence, can be a big boost.
7. I think that this team will not make the NCAAs- I just don't see how a team with nine scholarship players, one of whom was added last minute, no true post presence, and only three guards will get out of what is a vastly improved Atlantic 10.
8. I think I almost forgot about Butler and VCU- With everything that has happened, it's easy to forget that the league has added two very good teams this year. Add in Saint Louis, Temple, and UMass, add possible surprises in Dayton and St. Joseph's, and this is an extremely good basketball conference.
9. I think Xavier has a PR problem- The school was way behind the Shootout fight, bungled the aftermath, and then punted. That turned out not be an isolated incident, as the Dez Wells situation was handled with the same lack of finesse. The best way to keep public opinion high is to be transparent, available, and forthcoming. Right now, the Xavier administration is exactly none of those.
10. I think I'm already sick of college football this year- Actually, I know that one.