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 5 seed, the 2003 Xavier Musketeers!
Thad Matta was in his second year at Xavier, having overseen a wildly successful first season after taking over from Skip Prosser. A large part of that was the roster Prosser had left him, namely low post force of nature David West, which was still mostly intact, save for the departure of Xavier icon Kevin Frey. Without Frey, the defense took a small step back to 29th but the offense went to another level, striking a wonderful blend of ball movement, dedication to feeding West, and devastating outside shooting to be the 19th most efficient outfit in the nation.
If this team had a weakness, it was that they did not tend to turn opponents over all that much. They were elite at not sending their opposition to the line while still forcing them to take tough shots, but as far as taking the ball away, they lagged toward the middle of the pack. On offense, they could have cold nights from the field, but the combination of West and Anthony Myles on the glass meant that nearly 40% of their misses were coming back, so it often did not matter.
Obviously here is where I wax lyrical about David West, the best player to wear the Xavier uniform. West averaged 20.1/11.8/3.2, was named a 1st Team All American, and won a handful of national player of the year awards. Simply put, he was an absolute terror for opponents all season on both ends of the floor. Manning the backcourt were returners Romain Sato (18.1/7.1/2.3) and Lionel Chalmers (12.0/2.7/4.0) who showed flashes of the dominance that would come to define them as a duo the next march.
Rounding out the starting lineup were a pair of newcomers in juco transfer big man Anthony Myles (10.2/6.8/1.0), who would finish 9th in the nation in OR%, and hard nosed guard Dedrick Finn (7.6/2.1/4.3). Dave Young would feature early, but ultimately transfer to NC Central, leaving the bench contributors as Keith Jackson (5.0/2.6/1.5) and Will Caudle (3.7/1.7/0.3)
Xavier opened the season ranked 10th in the nation and tested themselves heavily in the non conference to back that up. Xavier lost early at a future 4 seed Stanford squad, but rebounded by beating Purdue and then winning the Crosstown Shootout at Cincinnati, with Jason Maxiell locking him down to the tune of 23 after talking an insane amount of pregame smack for someone who knew they were about to become a speed bump. Xavier would also add a good home win over Creighton and the only other blemishes in non conference were against tournament teams in Mississippi State and Alabama, both on the road. With all of the work they had done to get to that point, Xavier would fall out of the rankings after losing their A-10 opener at home to Richmond, their first loss at the Cintas Center in over a year.
Needing to respond to get the season back on track, they won 16 in a row before falling to GW in the A-10 semi final. To give you an idea just how dominant of a run this was, two games were one posession, and two more went to OT. None of the rest of those 16 wins were within 8 points or less. Xavier absolutely steamrolled the Atlantic 10 and in doing so rose to 10th in the nation and secured a 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament. First up was Troy, who was swatted aside, never really making it a game after Xavier led by 15 at the half. Next up, however, was the reigning National Champion Maryland Terrapins led by Steve Blake and Drew Nicolas. This proved too tough a test with no one other than West and Sato able to get it going consistently for Xavier and the lack of depth creating issues as Xavier tried to erase an early deficit.