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 2 seed, the 2008 Xavier Musketeers!
Sean Miller left after the next year, but this was his best team. They played slow, incredibly efficient offense, and emphasized good defense with packline principles. Like Miller’s ideal, the team shot well behind the arc and from the line and moved the ball extremely well. If Sean Miller could sit down and pick a team that most demonstrated the way he wanted basketball played, this might be it.
Senior Stanley Burrell was the living, breathing, screaming heart of this team. Stan was sixth on this team in scoring at 9.7 points per game, but that wasn’t his job. Burrell had come to Xavier as a scorer but by his senior year had become a defensive menace. Burrell took the other team’s best player and harried him all game long. Stan played more minutes than anyone else on the team, knocked down 39.3% of his threes, and was nails from the line. This was a Xavier icon’s swan song.
Stan wasn’t alone, though. Josh Duncan (12.4/4.7/1.3) was the nation’s 61st most efficient player, made 41% of his threes, and shot 85% from the line. BJ Raymond (9.9/3.0/0.9) was an incandescent shooter who was 55th in the nation in efficiency. Raymond shot 41% behind the arc, 54% inside it, and 82% from the line. Derrick Brown added a three point shot to his arsenal, cleaned the class on both ends, and was one of three Xavier players who had a block rate over 3%. One of those was sophomore Jason Love, who was third in the nation in offensive rebounding and making immense steps from his freshman year.
Manhattan transfer CJ Anderson (10.7/5.9/1.5) used the ball more than any other player. Anderson was a bull in the lane, led Xavier in rebounding, and got to the line very well. Drew Lavender (10.8/2.7/4.5) played the second most minutes on the team and ran the nation’s eighth most effective offense with aplomb. This was a loaded team, and they played like it.
Xavier got off to a good start and hit the Shootout at 7-1. The game wasn’t an instant classic, but it was tight. UC tried to ugly the game up but couldn’t hold Xavier’s offense down forever. A Derrick Brown dunk with four minutes to play gave Xavier the lead they held the rest of the way. After the Shootout came a letdown when X lost to Tennessee and Arizona State in back to back games. They would lose only two more times before March.
The bounceback from the double loss was significant. X hung 103 on a great Kansas State team and followed that up by burying Virginia with 108 points in just 71 possessions. The Musketeers won 11 straight and finished the A 10 regular season at 14-2. Somehow, this team didn’t win the Atlantic 10 tournament, but they did enough to earn a #3 seed in the NCAA tournament.
And then they very nearly threw it all away. With 16 minutes to go in the first round, Xavier trailed the 14th seeded SEC tournament champion Georgia Bulldogs by 11. X then went on a 20-6 run to take the lead and held Georgia without a bucket for over five minutes. The final looked comfortable, but the game wasn’t. In the second round Xavier used a 50 spot in the second half to ease away from Purdue and set up a Sweet 16 matchup with Bob Huggins West Virginia squad that had knocked off Duke.
The game was a classic in the annals of Xavier basketball. The Musketeers roared out to a 16 point lead but saw that down to seven by halftime. With under ten minutes to play in the game, it was tied. The game was vintage Huggins, defensive, ugly, and nasty. Xavier punched back and forth with the Mountaineers.
Things looked their most grim when Alex Ruoff pushed the West Virginia lead to 62-59 with barely more than two minutes to play. After leading by as many as 18 in the first half, Xavier was running the risk of getting into foul and hope for the best territory. A Josh Duncan 5-0 spurt pushed Xavier back in front before Joe Alexander scored. Unfortunately, Alexander didn’t just score, he scored and was fouled by an over-exuberantly contesting Jason Love. Thankfully, and in something of a foreshadowing, Alexander missed. A mad scramble led to a miss by Lavender and it was time for OT.
Two minutes into overtime and Xavier was finally on the ropes. Alex Ruoff had just staked West Virginia to a six point lead and two CJ Anderson had led to three West Virginia converted free throws. BJ Raymond finally scored on the drive and Stan Burrell followed on the next possession to pull Xavier within two. Sandwiched in between those baskets were two missed free throws by Huggins’ boys. Joe Mazzula, detestable as ever, made one of two free throws before Drew Lavender buried his third three of the night pull the game even at 72 with 2:03 to play. The stage was set.
BJ Raymond hadn’t scored all game until his layup in overtime. His only two shots had been errant and, in true BJ fashion, he wasn’t exactly dominating the glass. In OT however, he came alive. A Joe Mazzula bucket pushed the West Va lead back to two before Xavier’s undersized point guard found Raymond open for his first three of the game. Defense forced a turnover and then a huge offensive rebound gave Xavier the ball and a one point lead with thirty seconds to play and two seconds on the shot clock.
With West Virginia (and most of the country, probably) expecting the ball to go into Josh Duncan, Coach Sean Miller saw his chance to go for the kill. With the ball being played in from deep in front of the left corner by Burrell, Coach Miller ran Duncan high as a decoy. Drew Lavender lined up just a couple of steps closer to the basket than Duncan and did his level best to look non-threatening. BJ Raymond stood alone, on the opposite block and completely isolated. As the play swung into action he looked toward the top of the key to screen for Duncan. Duncan raced to the hoop off the backscreen that Raymond set.
For just a second it looked as if Bill Raftery would be right. Duncan was heading for the rim and Stan Burrell seemed coiled, waiting to throw the lob. In that moment, West Virginia took the bait. Raymond’s man frantically chased Duncan as Duncan’s own man came off Raymond. BJ drifted aimlessly just long enough to let his man clear and then cut for the three point line, signaling with all the fervency of a drowning man trying to signal a passing boat. The ball arrived on a perfect arc, BJ set his feet, took his time, and shot himself into Xavier folklore.