If you were born in the 1990s you can be forgiven for thinking that the Sweet 16 is Xavier's divine right. There are some up and downs during the season, a run in the conference tournament, and then, almost before anyone knows how it happened, it's time for one of those heart in the mouth second weekend games in the NCAA tournament. Death, taxes, Bo Ryan, and Xavier in the Sweet 16.
If you were born before that, if your're the age of the elder staff members here, each of those Sweet 16 runs still seems like a moment to be cherished. In the 90s there were tournament appearances, but only one Sweet 16. Xavier was 5-6 in the tournament in that decade and graced the later rounds of the NIT more often than those of the tournament that is the goal of every team at the start of the season. The Sweet 16? That was rarefied air.
As this season starts Xavier is again coming off a Sweet 16 run. A brilliant game against Arizona was the end of the line, but it encapsulated the fighting spirit that every Xavier team seems imbued with. In a game in which almost no national pundit gave them a chance, the Musketeers very nearly sprung the upset. That team lost Matt Stainbrook and Dee Davis, but returns plenty of talent and has added an explosive new guard. So how far should they go? That was the topic in a recent group discussion
Joel: Brad threw out making the Sweet 16 as the point at which the season can be considered not a disappointment; how does that feel as a sort of par for the year?
Caleb: Sweet 16 is always the bar to reach in my mind.
Brad: I'd agree with that. When I first started following Xavier 32 years ago, making the tournament was awesome. Now most seasons the Sweet 16 seems like a logical goal. With all the caveats about getting a bad draw (like the year we got Washington), this team feels right now like it is at least as talented as last year's squad was.
Caleb: I started following in 2007 when I was in high school, so all I've ever known is sweet 16 appearances. And I'm already very high on this years team. I feel like we've got key pieces that are going to click and hit their stride late in the season
Bryan: I think that my hope has always been the same as with most X fans: make a run to the Final Four. Expectations vary from year to year, but this group is getting to the point where the expectation and hope are the closest they have ever been. If Jalen pulls things together down low and Sumner and LAJ can take care of the ball, this can be the best X team ever and fulfill the hopes of a Final Four. I think anything short of the Sweet Sixteen would be disappointing this year, simply because this might be the best chance to fulfill our hopes that X fans have ever seen.
Joel: We definitely have the pieces to go farther than we did last year. We've spilled a lot of digital ink talking about replacing Dee at the point, but is it a foregone conclusion that Jalen replaces Matt? I think he can do it in terms of rebounding and scoring, but Coach Mack is already talking about running the offense through the post and shooting a lot of threes. Does Jalen have the feel for the game to make this run smoothly?
With less than two weeks until the opening tip, that's where we stand. The Sweet 16 feels more like an expectation than a goal, and it's possible that if Jalen Reyolds replaces the Stain Train, this team could be primed to go even farther. So what do you expect when the season opens? Are you happy with an NCAA tournament appearance, or are you at the point where you expect to see the Musketeers playing deep into March?