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Crawford's Gotta Hurry: Setting the Stage

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Before the classic Sweet 16 game came a season with a rocky start and a team hitting its stride at just the right time.

Dante celebrates after sealing a Sweet 16 bid
Dante celebrates after sealing a Sweet 16 bid
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The 2009-10 season was one of transition for the Xavier Musketeers. One of the biggest transfers to ever walk onto campus, Jordan Crawford, had finally become eligible, but the coach that recruited him, Sean Miller, was gone. Miller had left for Arizona not long after assuring both Xavier fans, and the Xavier athletic director at the time, Mike Bobinski, that he would stay. Stepping up to take the keys to the Buick was assistant coach Chris Mack. Xavier was still an Atlantic 10 powerhouse, but how they would adjust to losing their coach so abruptly remained to be seen.

Non-conference

Xavier started the season with a roll of three cupcakes. These were not warmup games in the sense that the Musketeers play now, but more like games Jim Boeheim would schedule. Xavier rolled through Youngstown State, Bowling Green, and Sacred Heart, winning by an average of 35 points. After that came a Thanksgiving tournament, the Old Spice Classic. True to form, the Musketeers dropped two of three in Florida while the rest of us enjoyed family, shopping, and too much food.

After the 3-0 start, Xavier didn't win two games in a row for more than a month. Significant in the losses in that stretch were the Clock Game at Hinkle Barn and Pastures, and a 15 point rout at the hands of Kansas State. In that game, played in Manhattan, Kansas, Xavier trailed by 10 at the half and never made a run. A double overtime win over UC will be featured in a later lookback, and Xavier hit Atlantic 10 play at 8-5, fresh off a loss to Wake Forest. For what was coming, it was hardly an auspicious start.

Atlantic 10 play

The Musketeers flipped a switch, though, when they hit the A10. The conference had four teams in the KenPom top 50 that year, as well as seven in the top 100. The dregs were just as bad as ever (Fordham, whom Xavier beat by 48, was 305th), but there were good wins available. The Musketeers were 4-0 off the jump, with wins over Charlotte and Dayton both helping the NCAA tournament cause.

There wasn't a great deal of drama in the Atlantic 10 regular season for the Musketeers in 2009-10. Of the 16 games, only five were decided by single digits. The Musketeers roared to 14-2, only losing on the road to Dayton and Temple. In the tournament, Xavier beat Dayton for the second time, knocking the Flyers out of the at large picture and cementing their own status as a tournament team before losing to Richmond in the second round.

NCAA tournament

On Selection Sunday, the Musketeers were drawn as a six seed facing the Minnesota Golden Gophers. It wasn't an easy matchup by any stretch, and the game went to the half tied. Jordan Crawford blew up for 17 of his 28 in the second half and was likened by teammate Kenny Frease as being like "watching someone playing a video game." No other Musketeers scored in double digits, but the effort was good enough for a 65-54 win.

Next up was a matchup against the three seeded Pitt Panthers. The year before, Pitt had knocked Xavier off in the Sweet 16 to prevent another Elite Eight run. The Musketeers took a 50-37 second half lead before collapsing. Pitt cut the lead to one with just under ten minutes to play before Xavier made it eight again. Jordan Crawford, again, carried the load with 27 points and pushed the lead to seven with 2:07 to play. The Panthers weren't dead though, and it took a missed three with .4 left on the clock before Xavier was finally through to the Sweet 16 and a repeat meeting with Kansas State.