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Thad Matta’s first Xavier squad is the #9 seed in the Xavier Sweet 16

A new coach inherited Xavier’s best ever player and a squad he would turn into a powerhouse.

David West #30 , Najeeb Echols #33

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 9 seed, the 2002 Xavier Musketeers!

The Coach

It was Benedict Arnold who saved the Revolution at Saratoga, stormed the walls of Quebec, fought heroically with his Mosquito Fleet at Valcour Island, and was by the side of Ethan Allen when Ticonderoga fell. Arnold is one of the best military minds of his age and is undoubtedly responsible for holding a fledgling nation together and giving it its most significant military victories. No one remembers him for that.

In a burst of foreshadowing Thad Matta joined Xavier after only a year at Butler. Waiting for him was a loaded roster. Four NBA draftees (David West, Romain Sato, Lionel Chalmers, and David Young) suited up for the Musketeers in the 2001-02 season. Matta was a rising star who had been named the Rookie Coach of the Year and the Horizon League Coach of the Year just the year before. Now he was Xavier’s. But no one remembers him for that.

The Players

David West is Xavier’s best ever player and averaged 18.3/9.8/1.6, Romain Sato averaged 16.1 and shot 41.5% behind the arc on 200 attempts, Lionel Chalmers put up 12/3.4/4.2, and Kevin Frey and David Young were both north of eight points per game. This team was absolutely loaded with top end talent.

And not a whole lot else. Behind those five things got pretty grim, pretty quickly. Alvin Brown started two games for Young and shot the three well in a tiny sample. He did precious little else and averaged 10 minutes per game. Keith Jackson was an athletic freak but struggled to score efficiently. No one else even averaged double digit minutes or played in every game, Jaison Williams appeared in 31 games, Anthony Coleman in 23, and James Baronas in 13. This was not a deep team.

The Season

But when those top five were firing, the team didn’t need to be deep. Xavier crushed Miami by 29 behind 29 and 17 from West, a 51 point win over LIU Brooklyn featured a West triple-double and 21 from Sato, a 17-8 stretch run and 22 from Kevin Frey saw X go to Creighton and win. That came in the midst of a run of 11 straight wins that propelled the Muskies to 17-3. Only losses at St. Bonaventure, in what would have been a Q1 game, and Temple, another Q1, kept Xavier from running the table in the Atlantic 10.

In the postseason Xavier very nearly lost their very first game. In the first half of the Atlantic 10 quarterfinal X shot 17.4% from the floor, which is horrendous. Romain Sato had 21 in the game and David West scored eight in overtime. After that X brushed off Dayton, as one does, and then pounded Richmond in the final.

That season earned Xavier a seven seed. Life in the A10 was like that. Evidently five sub-200 wins weren’t all that impressive to the committee. That meant that Xavier got a tough Hawaii squad in the first round and fell down 12 before roaring back by allowing only 18 points in the second half. As Sato poured in 18 and 10, the Musketeers forced 12 turnovers, grabbed eight steals, and blocked four shots in the second half. Kelvin Sampson’s Oklahoma Sooners were more than a match for X in the second round, though. Aaron McGhee had 28, Ebi Ere had 20, and Xavier could never get the offense going. Thad Matta’s first team wasn’t his best, but his future at X looked bright.