The Xavier Sweet 16* features all 19 Xavier teams from the KenPom era in one bracket where Twitter polls will decide the winners. Here’s your 15 seed, the 2006 Xavier Musketeers!
Sean Miller was in his second season at the helm for Xavier after Thad Matta bolted in the night for Ohio State, leaving the cupboard a bit bare. Miller had not yet molded Xavier into the hard nosed defense dominated squad that they would be in his later years, but he had begun to build the core of his best Xavier teams while being aided by a couple of Matta holdovers and star transfer Brian Thornton. What he was not aided by was Thornton’s season ending after 21 games and fellow senior Dedrick Finn leaving the team mid season, which sent Xavier into a tailspin.
If you think Coach Steele needs to go after two seasons, you either were not a Xavier fan during the early Miller years or have such a rose tinted view of his tenure that you have forgotten this team stumbled to 8-8 in an A-10 that produced a solitary at large team in the NCAA Tournament in 8 seeded George Washington.
This was a team in transition, but they did have a bonafide star in Thornton, who averaged 15.3/6.8/1.5 and shot 64% from the floor before breaking his ankle against LaSalle. Thornton’s counterpart in the backcourt was sophomore Stanley Burrell (14.4/2.9/3.3), who interpreted Miller’s having him play a lot of minutes as a sign Miller wanted him to shoot a lot, which he did on 28% of the possessions he spent on the floor. A pair of Matta’s former charges in Justin Doellman (11.0/6.7/2.5) and Justin Cage (10.5/5.4/1.2) we also invaluable in terms of both minutes played and production, with Cage posting the highest true shooting % in the A 10 and Doellman shooting a .448/.358/.771 clip himself.
A pair of underclassmen whose Xavier careers would head in opposite directions rounded out the starting lineup toward the end of the season as Josh Duncan posted 9.1/4.2/1.8 on his way to becoming a Xavier legend and Johnny Wolf’s 3.7/1.5/2.0 saw him set the stage to backup Drew Lavender for a season and transfer to UNC Wilmington.
Things started well enough at 3-0 against low majors and a truly terrible Purdue team, which would have seen the Twitter mafia run Matt Painter out of town had it been a thing back then. In fact, Xavier cruised through the early part of January with the only losses coming on a neutral court to a great Illinois team and at a solid Crieghton squad. Xavier opened conference play by winning at St. Joe’s, a a level KenPom game, and went to 3-0 in conference winning at Charlotte, which used to mean something. An overtime victory on January 19th in the Crosstown Shootout pushed X to 12-2 and had them looking like contenders in the conference, but less than a month later they would wake up on February 12th having lost 5 of 7 and their best player to a season ending injury.
From there they beat Fordham and Duquesne, but dropped 3 of 4 heading into the postseason to finish 17-10 and 8-8 in the A 10, meaning they would play in the 7-10 game in the conference tournament and have to battle their way past the 2 and 3 seed to take their crack at GW. Only, they really didn’t. After beating UMASS fairly comfortably, Xavier would shock 2 seed Charlotte on the same night 1 seed GW, 2 seed LaSalle, and 4 seed Saint Louis fell. It was now a free for all for the 5-8 seeds for a shot at the big dance. Xavier overcame Bryant Dunston and Fordham in the semifinal to set a date with St. Joe’s, which Doellman iced from the line to give Xavier their 4th win in 4 days and send them dancing.
They were awarded a 14 seed (a Seton Hall squad 32 KenPom ranks lower was a 10, but I’m not bitter) and were drawn against media darling Adam Morrison and Gonzaga. Xavier was in the game all night, but some untimely missed free throws and the fact the referees appeared to be openly cheering for Morrison led to a heartbreaking 79-75 loss and the end of the season, although any Xavier fan will count watching Morrison bawl like a calf on national TV while choking the game away against UCLA as a decent consolation prize.