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 19 seed, the 2005 Xavier Musketeers!
2005 was the first year for Sean Miller after Thad Matta followed his Elite Eight success by leaving for Ohio State. Lionel Chalmers, Romain Sato, and Anthony Myles had all graduated and Brandon Cole was hurt. Expectations for this season weren’t high, which proved to be a good thing.
One thing Miller could do was coach offense, though, and this team was still solid on that end of the floor. The 111.5 offensive efficiency the Musketeers had was good for 44th in the nation and the offense that would be the staple of some of Miller’s best teams was already in evidence. That offense relied heavily on ball movement and three point shooting. No Xavier team in the advanced metric era has shot the three as much as this one.
The big names on this team would go on to make their history in three years time or were just coming off Xavier’s first Elite Eight run in tournament history. Dedrick Finn (8.1/2.2/4.2) was back in the starting lineup where he was joined by fellow The Run stars Justin Doellman (10.9/6.0/2.8) and Justin Cage (11.1/5.6/2.1). Cage was the 39th most efficient player in the nation, but had the lowest usage rate of any Musketeer who logged significant minutes.
The newcomers were led by a freshman from Indianapolis who took nearly four more shots per game than anyone else. Stanley Burrell (12.7/3.2/2.1) ran as the other guard off Finn and started 24 of the 29 games Xavier played. Vanderbilt transfer Brian Thornton (10.7/5.8/0.9) was a force inside but was still a year away from being the monster he would be for 21 games the following season. Finally, a shredded freshman who set Xavier’s bench press record, Josh Duncan (6.2/2.3/0.7), led the team with a 38.6% mark behind the arc.
Xavier’s season began with Oakland and then five straight KenPom top 100 opponents. The Musketeers went 2-4. None of the games were blowouts, the three losses to Creighton, Tennessee, and Mississippi St came by a total of nine points, X got healthy by blasting Lehigh, IPFW, and Marshall, then pulled off a huge win over top 50 opponent Iowa St before entering conference play. At 6-4 the Musketeers were doing ok, but they had missed the chance for the multiple big non-conference wins playing in the Atlantic 10 sometimes required.
Conference play began with seven straight games of alternating results. Xavier’s offense wasn’t the problem, but even playing a glacially slow pace they allowed 76 to Fordham in a loss before getting locked down by Temple and St. Joe’s. Xavier hit the Shootout on February 10th at 5-4 and needing a huge win to salvage any chance at all for an at-large bid. A 27-10 lead pushed the Bearcats to a 61-41 advantage late in the second half. X cut the lead back to ten, but never really challenged for the win.
X put together two more two game winning streaks in Atlantic 10 play but otherwise continued with their win one-lose one pattern. Finishing at 10-6 earned them a trip straight into the A10 quarterfinals where they pounded La Salle behind 16 each from Burrell and Cage. The pattern continued right into the semifinals, though, and Xavier dropped a tight game to St. Joe’s behind 30 from Pat Carroll.
This was a Musketeer team in transition. The best team in school history to that point had just left and the pieces of the next great run were just arriving. Sean Miller was finding his way as a first year head coach. X didn’t make any postseason play in 2005, but the drought would be brief.