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Looking Ahead: The Program

We end our look forward to next season with a brief article about what this season will mean to the Xavier program.

Coach Mack knows his margin for error could be thin this year.
Coach Mack knows his margin for error could be thin this year.
Michael Hickey

Over the beginning of this week, we took a look at the upcoming season for the players on Xavier's roster. The guards were examined on Monday, and the big men came under the microscope on Tuesday. Today, we'll be looking at the program as a whole as it rolls into the 2013-2014 campaign.

What better place to begin than the man at the helm of the ship? Coach Mack took over for Sean Miller after the latter defected to Arizona and promptly piloted Xavier to two Sweet Sixteens in three years. This season was something of a downer for Mack, as the team missed the postseason entirely for the first time since Miller's first year. While some of that was beyond the scope of Mack's control, the man in charge is going to take a bit of flak when the year doesn't go well. Coach Mack was no exception.

This year is probably pivotal for Mack. For the first time in his tenure, he will have all of his own players on the roster. While that is often a place where a coach can really step up - assuming he is sharp enough to recruit players who fit his style - it's a double-edged sword for Mack when one considers the quality of the players that he inherited. Losing Dez Wells hurt the program, but Coach Mack has still assembled a talented roster, and it will be up to him to forge those players into a cohesive and effective unit.

Mack's ability to do that may go a long way towards determining how settled he is in his job going forward. It doesn't take too many 17-win seasons to go from being one of the hottest names on the market to being on the hot seat. It's proving time for Coach Mack this season: time to prove last year was a fluke, time to prove he can consistently recruit at a high level, time to prove he can manage personalities on a roster, and time to prove that Xavier is back to being among the perennial contenders on a national level.

This is also a big year for the program as a whole. After years of being one of the princes among mid-majors, Xavier has stepped up and joined a major conference. ESPN has downplayed the value of the current form of the Big East for reasons that have nothing to do with the quality of the basketball that will be played there, but there aren't going to be many easy games in the conference for Xavier. The days of penciling RPI killing Ws over the likes of Fordham are over; the Muskies have joined the big time.

For Mack and Xavier, this will be the start of one of two possible cycles. Either X will establish itself as a top player in the new league, playing and winning nationally televised games from the Atlantic seaboard to the Mississippi and reaping the benefits of the increased recruiting profile that comes with it, or they will stumble out of the blocks, setting the stage for the talking heads in the media to - rightly or wrongly - point out that the Big East is treating the program a lot more roughly than the A-10. As Xavier fans, we've been waiting for the program to get its due. There's never been a bigger opportunity to make that happen than the one the team faces right now.