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 13 seed, the 2012 Xavier Musketeers!
Chris Mack was in his third season at Xavier, but was still extremely reliant on holdovers from the Sean Miller era with Miller recruits and a grad transfer taking 4 of the starting 5 spots all season. The offense, which had lost 31% of the scoring from the year prior mostly in the forms of Jamel McLean and Dante Jackson, took a step back efficiency wise due to a 3.3 point drop in in 2P% and an aversion to three point shooting, but the defense was a bit better than the year prior and the team played to its guard heavy strength by pushing the pace in transition.
Strategically, Mack leaned heavily into the pack line and high hedges, which often left Kenny Frease chasing a ball handler roughly 20 feet further from the basket than anyone wants Kenny Frease on defense. Xavier was also extremely heavy on ball screens when they did play half court offense, asking Tu Holloway or Mark Lyons to get into the lane and create on the majority of possessions.
Xavier we led by senior guard Tu Holloway, who was named an AP 3rd team All American the season before. He would average 17.5/3.6/4.9 on his way to a second straight 1st team All A-10 nod, but altogether less national accolade than the season before or than he would likely had gotten had it not been for bad optics. Joining him in the backcourt was the King of Upstate Mark Lyons, who averaged 15.1/3.2/2.8 in his final season at Xavier and was the potent number 2 in Xavier’s 1-2 punch. Kenny Frease (10.2/6.1/1.1) anchored the middle alongside Vanderbilt transfer and glue guy extraordinaire Andre Walker (5.3/5.8/1.9). Mack’s lone recruit who was a major contributor for this team was freshman phenom Dez Wells, who posted 9.8/4.9/1.1 and led the team with a 54.6 efg%.
Off the bench Travis Taylor (4.5/3.7/0.3) and Jeff Robinson (3.6/2.9/0.1) spelled the bigs, Justin Martin (2.9/2.5/0.5) played sparingly at wing, and Brad Redford (3.2/0.7/0.3) and Dee Davis (1.9/0.6/0.8) both were caught behind Holloway and Lyons in the backcourt.
This team was ranked #14 in the preseason poll and was expected to roll through the A-10 on their way to a favorable draw to make the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. Through the start of December, things were going to plan. Xavier went to #20 Vanderbilt and erased a 10 point second half deficit to win in OT, then 5 days later roared back from 19 down to beat Purdue. A win at Hinkle Fieldhouse set the stage for a Crosstown Shootout that would live on in infamy. Xavier absolutely annihilated UC that day, but the fallout of the game ending brawl would reverberate for much of the season. A loss to Oral Roberts would follow, the first of a three game losing streak, and Xavier would drop 5 of 6 all together to fall out of the rankings for good.
Inconsistency would plague the team the rest of the way, but come March the team would rise to the occasion time and time again. First, Lyons ended a quiet night against Dayton by taking the game over in the closing stages and sending Xavier on in the A 10 tournament and the Flyers to the NIT. Then, Frease would knock down a pair of clutch free throws to cement Xavier’s resume against St. Louis. Both games were headlined by Holloway, who was rounding into form at the best time. Entering the NCAA Tournament as a 10 seed, Xavier drew Notre Dame and with the game on the line, Holloway drove to the right side of the lane, faded and banked in a winner over the outstretched arm of Fighting Irish ogre Jack Cooley to send Xavier to an improbable date with Lehigh. One Kenny Frease masterclass later, Xavier was into the second weekend, through a much more twisted and treacherous than anyone had imagined. There stood the #3 seed Baylor Bears and foul trouble to Lyons and Holloway combined with the well balanced attack of Baylor spelled the end for a strange, but certainly memorable, season in the annals of Xavier basketball.