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The 11 seed 2007 Musketeers were one whistle away from greatness

What happened to this team will make me angry as long as I live.

NCAA BASKETBALL - Justin Cage
One of these guys is a good basketball player.
Photo via Getty Images

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 11 seed, the 2007 Xavier Musketeers!

The Coach

Sean Miller was figuring things out in this, his third year at Xavier. After being knocked off by Gonzaga the year before, Miller came back with a team still loaded with senior depth and one phenomenal freshman. Miller’s reputation as an offensive genius began to be cemented with this team, which finished eighth in the nation. Xavier took their time and scored points. That’s what Sean Miller’s were known for, and that’s what this one did. They would hit you inside, outside, and from the line. Defense was also theoretically part of the game plan.

The Players

A senior from Union, Ky led the line this season. Justin Doellman (13.7/5.5/1.7) was whip thin but withstood the beating well enough to play 27 minutes per game and lead the team in rebounding. Fellow senior Justin Cage (10.5/5.4/1.4) was the 25th most efficient player in the nation in large part thanks to the fact he got to the line at a shockingly high 94% rate. Brandon Cole (5.8/4.7/0.6) rounded out the seniors as the best by rate rebounder on the team.

The triumvirate of juniors on the team wasn’t too shabby in their own right. Stanley Burrell (12.4/2.0/2.4) was making the transition from pure scorer to defensive menace. Drew Lavender (11.2/2.4/4.8) ran the offense well enough to be the 38th most efficient player in that nation. Josh Duncan (9.3/3.4/0.7) was the second of Xavier’s big men that could bang inside or step outside and knock down threes. He also appeared to have been carved from a solid block of granite.

To round things out freshman Derrick Brown (6.3/4.1/0.8) was uninhibited by gravity, was the number one two point shooter in the nation, finished 43rd in offensive efficiency, and was top 250 in both rebounding rates. A sophomore named BJ Raymond knocked down 45% of his 80 three point attempts, just in case the offense needed that little boost. Defense was at a premium, the team finished 78th in the nation, but these could score in absolute bunches.

The Season

Xavier started the non-con with a 33 point win over cupcake Coastal Carolina. Then things got serious fast. The Musketeers beat a very good VCU and then knocked off Big East power Villanova. A loss to Alabama on a neutral court was followed by a weird two game losing blip in which the Musketeers dropped the Crosstown Shootout to a frankly awful UC team coached by a rookie named Mick Cronin. Two games later the Muskies fell again to a mediocre Bucknell as the story of an up and down season began to play out.

After that came a three game winner against Illinois, Kansas St, and Temple. The team that did that then promptly lost three of their next six to Saint Louis before they were good, a pretty good St. Joe’s squad, and then a putrid Duquesne. Then they ripped off eight straight. X looked good money for another Atlantic 10 championship and beat Dayton to open the tournament before losing to a Rhode Island team 103 KenPom spots below them Consistent this team was not, good enough to beat anyone they definitely were.

All of that landed Xavier a nine seed and a first round matchup with BYU. It’s a shame that what happened next has consigned this game to the back burner of history, because it was an absolute classic. Xavier trailed by eight at the half and by nine in the second half before fighting their way back into it. BJ Raymond drilled back to back threes to keep them in touching distance early, Derrick Brown had 16 rebounds, and Justin Doellman scored 23. It was Josh Duncan who was the hero, though, as he saved his only made bucket for 37 seconds left to give Xavier a lead they wouldn’t relinquish and set up a meeting with old coach Thad Matta in the second round.

Matta’s OSU was a national championship contender and played with the unearned swagger of every Buckeyes team that doesn’t wear pads. Greg Oden was their enormous seven foot center who was supposed to control the game. To do that, though, he would have to deal with Xavier’s bevy of fleet bigs, and he couldn’t. While Justin Doellman and Drew Lavender never quite got going, Justin Cage was absolutely brilliant. Cage played 38 minutes and was a perfect 8-8 from the floor and 6-8 from the line on his way to 25/6/1. Oden looked like a monolith with Cage working him all over the floor as the upset minded Musketeers fought back from a halftime deficit to take a late 61-59 lead.

Xavier then defended like they hadn’t all year. Ohio State missed a wide open three and David Lighty missed a stickback before the ball landed in the hands of Justin Cage with 9.3 seconds to play. Greg Oden has since admitted that the anger of losing the game overcame him at that point, and he grabbed Cage under both arms and quite literally threw him off the court. For reasons lost to the sands of time and in a show of breathtaking incompetence, the officials only called a common foul. Oden was booed off the floor by the Lexington, Ky crowd, but Cage could only make one of the two free throws. Sean Miller elected not to foul and Ron Lewis sent the game to overtime.

The look on Miller’s face said it all as the cameras cut away, and Xavier’s upset bid came up short. Thad Matta, three years after snaking Xavier to leave for Ohio State came within one easy call of receiving his comeuppance. This time though, Judas took the silver and lived, Benedict Arnold burned New York, Brutus ascended to the throne. Matta had won, and Xavier was out.