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 3 seed, the 2018 Xavier Musketeers!
By this point in his career Chris Mack was considered one of the elite coaches in the nation. After stumbling out of the gates in his coaching career, he started to look like mastermind. In the previous season, he schemed and crafted just enough zone defense to support his brilliant offensive system and rode it, and the heroic efforts of Trevon Bluiett, to an Elite 8 appearance.
In his final year at X, Mack had the offense clicking on all cylinders. The team ranked 8th in offense with an efficiency rating of 120.1. Defensively, this team could get pretty shaky. The guards got victimized routinely in man-to-man and the 1-3-1 was not used nearly as frequently as the previous two years. On the whole, Mack knew that this team could score in bunches and he played to it’s strengths.
To say that this team was loaded with offensive weapons would be an understatement. Trevon Bluiett (19.3/5.5/2.5) and JP Macura (12.9/4.5/2.9) both returned to the team as the foundation of everything Xavier did. Quentin Goodin (8.7/2.9/4.9), Kaiser Gates (7.2/4.6/.9), Tyrique Jones (7/45/.5) and Sean O’Mara (6.7/3.2/1.0) also returned after all four had played big roles in the run a year prior and all saw their roles increased this season.
There were also some fresh faces coming in to round out the team and provide added depth. Freshman Naji Marshall (7.7/4.4/1.6) and Paul Scruggs (4.9/2.0/1.7) provided more length and athleticism to the group and transfer Kerem Kanter (10.9/4.5/.5) brought a skilled touch in the post as well as a respectable 33% from 3.
After scoring 202 across two buy games, Xavier went to Wisconsin and won. Capped off by a couple Trevon 3s and JP Gator-Chomping the Badgers student section. The first loss came against Arizona State and their razor quick backcourt. X returned home and continued the Revenge Tour by beating Baylor with yet another late game surge. That weekend, Xavier beat the brakes off of UC behind monster performances from Trevon, Enes Kanter’s little brother and JP who, despite only scoring 7, was praised for his #class in the postgame presser. X then escaped disaster against ETSU, coming back from 22 down to win on another clutch shot from Bluiett.
Xavier entered conference play at 12-1 and began with a tough road win over Marquette, followed by back-to-back home wins over DePaul and Butler. A wretched 2 game losing streak on the road was quickly forgotten and Xavier rattled 9 wins in a row. Along the way were wins at Seton Hall where JP stole the show, an OT win at the barn where Trevon hit a very deep 3 to kill it off and an away win over Creighton in which two poor calls were made in the final five seconds, Q hit two clutch FTs and X snuck away with the victory. A loss to Nova ended the streak, but X rebounded to win their last three and take home the Big East title with yet another late win at DePaul.
The Musketeers began the Big East Tournament by running St. John’s off the court with the only drama coming after the game when the Johnnies decided that their feelings were hurt. Things then derailed in the semi-final against Providence. Xavier led by 17 and appeared to be coasting to another win when they suddenly forgot how to play basketball. X eventually lost in OT and had no one to blame but themselves. Despite this, they still pulled the 1 seed and quickly dispatched Texas Southern behind 29 from JP. The second round was a rematch with Florida State. After a whistle-happy first half, X finally started clicking and JP led the charge to a 12 point lead with 9 to play. By the time the dust had settled, JP was the victim of three dreadful foul calls, Trevon had slipped in the lane and X had crashed out of the tournament.
This team conjures up mixed feelings in retrospect. It was fun and exciting to watch, it featured a dynamic duo of two Xavier greats in Bluiett and Macura, and it was a genuine contender for a national title. All of that is countered by the way it ended though. There was not a blind rage like in 2007, or a sudden shock like 2016, instead there was just overwhelming sadness. This was our chance, we had paid our dues and our guys finally going to get it done, but it just wasn’t to be. We will forever remember this team for what they accomplished though. The big comebacks, the big late shots, and the Big East title.