There was a time during the 80's and 90's (and even early 00's) when Xavier was known for the abundance of quality of their low post talent. Names like Derek Strong, Brian Grant, Tyrone Hill, and to the younger among us. David West roll off the tongue of any real X fan like a proud father listing off his accomplished sons (so, not at all like our dad). However, in recent years, Xavier has put together some of the best guard pairings in the nation as the program's rise to prominence has seen an exciting trend develop, which just might resurface this year, of Xavier's deeper tournament runs being fueled by dynamic and efficient guard play. We will profile the three most memorable pairings here, and go into why this may be the year for another to emerge.
Lionel Chalmers and Romain Sato
In 2004, it became these guys program as Xavier's most dominant post force ever departed to fulfill his destiny as an NBA Draft bust (ignore the stats, accolades, playoff appearances, and all-star games, UC fans nailed this one). Both these guys were entering their Senior seasons and coach Thad Matta handed them to keys to the car, ostensibly because he trusted them, but possibly because he didn't want them. They responded by stumbling out of the gate before a Crosstown Shootout win set them on a tear that would see them win 14 out of 15 A-10 games, end St. Joe's shot at an undefeated regular season (in spectacular fashion), and 4 games in 4 days to rampage into the NCAA Tournament on a high. Chalmers led the way with 16.6/3.3/2.2 on .449/.409/.709 shooting. While his turnovers hampered his overall effectiveness, his shooting was instrumental in Xavier's run, while his seasoned, steady approach kept the team focused through their Elite 8 run. It was impossible to mention Chalmers, however, without mentioning the 6'6" do-it-all manchild that was Romain Sato. Sato was a little less effective from the field, but made up for it by getting his from the line on the way to 16.3/8.0/2.3, leading the way for Xavier on the boards and shooting a sparkling .829 from the line. Chalmers had 25 to Sato's 24 in a storming first round comeback over Louisville, before Chalmers did it himself against Mississippi State, chalking up a career high 31 and sending Xavier to the second weekend. Next up was Texas, who Sato torched for 27/7/6 and hit three vital free throws to seal the game in the final minute. Sadly, the story closed with the tandem combining for 27 against Final Four bound Duke, but leaving X fans with a wealth of memories of two of the best we had ever seen sharing the backcourt for the Musketeers.
Stanley Burrell and Drew Lavender
Once again a pair of seniors teamed to forge a memorable pair in 2008. Burrell had come to X with a knack for big scoring games and the ability to knock down big shots. What he had become by the last of his four seasons at Xavier was the consummate team player: a hard nosed defender who was content to set his teammates up and get his shots (sometimes not) in the flow of the offense. His development to this point has no greater evidence than to point our his final season, he took the fewest shots of his career, but posted his highest offensive rating. Meanwhile, Lavender had joined Xavier for his last two years, after starting out at Oklahoma. Lavender was noted for his small stature and quickness off the dribble, but also for his innate ability to find teammates and keep the offense flowing, as evidenced by his 28.2 assist rate. Forming the engine room of one of Xavier's best teams ever, it seemed like the big occasion was when these two were their best. It started with Lavender scoring 13 and assisting 6 as Burrell held Indiana sensation Eric Gordon to 20 points on 4-12 shooting in Xavier's upset win. Lavender then went for 12 and 5 while Burrell struggled from the field but went 4-4 from the line in the final minute as X held off UC. Burrell led all scorers with 13 and held Dayton's Brian Roberts to 5 as the #16 Flyers failed to conquer Cintas again. While Xavier was by no means the two man show it was with Chalmers and Sato, Burrell's tenacity and Lavender's surgical ability to open up a defense were huge parts of Xavier's second trip to the Elite 8. The pair averaged 20.6 points and 9.6 assists in Xavier's three tournament wins that season, all while playing over 30 minutes apiece every game. While the numbers are not as eye-popping as those from four years before, the impact Burrell and Lavender had on this team was incalculable and they were a large part of the reason the 2008 season is remembered so fondly.
Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons
Holloway had emerged in 2010 as Xavier's next best option behind Jordan Crawford, and when Crawford departed for the NBA, the next in line assumed his title. In 2011, he established himself as one of the best guards in the nation, while Mark Lyons stepped out of the shadows to assume the role Holloway had taken alongside Crawford. By 2012, this were supposed to be rolling along for X and their new, seemingly unstoppable guard tandem. Holloway was definitely the go-to guy, averaging 17.5 points per game as a senior and dishing out 4.9 assists. Lyons assumed more of a shooting role, firing one up on 28% of the posessions he was on the court on his way to 15.1 ppg and a team leading .392 from deep. The two shared a hard nosed playing style and swaggering demeanor, which likely helped fuel the media's self-righteous frenzy following the brawl against UC. Both players were suspended in the wake of the fight, and Xavier struggled to recover, needing to make a good showing in the A-10 tournament for a shot at the field of 68. Holloway led everyone with 21 and Lyons hit the go ahead basket with 21 seconds left to hold off Dayton before Holloway matched his number from the night before and Lyons added 14 to finish off the resume against Saint Louis. Lyons never got it going against Notre Dame in the first round, but Holloway had 17 in the second half to beat the Irish and the theme was the same against Lehigh as Lyons was held to 7 and Holloway put up 21. Lyons sparked to life against Baylor, as he and Holloway brought out the big guns, going for 16 and 22 respectively, but it was not enough to overcome Quincy Acy and the Bears. However, these two went out like they had played at Xavier: they didn't ask anyone to like them, they just played hard and were never afraid of big shots.
Who is next?
As you may have noticed, the years which were highlighted were 2004, 2008, and 2012, meaning that 2016 would be the next logical step in the succession of Xavier's great guard pairs. With a host of talented returners led by Myles Davis, Remy Abell, JP Macura, and Larry Austin Jr., as well as the newly healthy Edmond Sumner, and adding in whoever else Coach Mack brings in this year- it all comes out to another backcourt to remember for X fans.