As we continue on with the Big East Summer Q&A series, we run into our first conference newcomer - the Xavier Musketeers.
Among college basketball enthusiasts, Xavier is a perennial NCAA Tournament team - one that has finished near the top of the Atlantic 10 standings for most years since its first turn in the conference in 1995. In fact, the Musketeers were left out of the Big Dance just five times during that span.
Now, as head coach Chris Mack enters his fifth season at the helm, Xavier will need to prove that it will be able to retain its elite status in the stronger Big East. Mack's squad doesn't come with much buzz; so far, few pundits (including us) have the Musketeers in the top half of the league's projected standings, but Xavier has proven people wrong before. And it will all begin New Year's Eve when they welcome St. John's to the Cintas Center.
We are very excited to welcome Brad Dobney of Banners On The Parkway (@BannersParkway) to the Rumble, who tells us about his excitement for the new Big East, unwarranted desire to play Georgetown, the unbelievable game experience at the Cintas Center, and your [Major Singer] anecdote for today.
Rumble In The Garden: Explain where the Xavier Musketeers fit in the national hierarchy - imagine you're talking to a hoops newbie who knows Duke, Kentucky, and North Carolina exist, but the person doesn't watch the tournament or really know conferences' reputation. Who is Xavier? Think: "What is our team known for?" or "Why might someone have heard of the team?"
Brad Dobney: Xavier isn't quite yet the national power that the casual basketball fan would be familiar with, but they are right on the cusp. Prior to last year Xavier had played in seven straight NCAA tournaments and been to the Sweet 16 in five of the last six. David West, James Posey, and Jordan Crawford have all had very recent success in the NBA and are certainly elevating the national profile of the school. And, of course, there's always that little "gangster" incident (video). I suppose a person or two might of heard of that.
RITG: Add a fun fact about the school or the program - something that would impress a person who is loosely familiar with the school.
BD: I would say the Sweet 16 streak was pretty impressive. In ESPN's 50 for 50 series last year, they ranked Xavier as the 34th most successful basketball program of all time. More significantly, they had the Musketeers 15th over the last decade.
RITG: How do you feel about the new Big East - being in the conference, worries about the future? What are you most excited about/ to see? What worries you?
DB: In one word? Elated. In lots of words? I cannot wait to watch the Musketeers playing in the iconic conference tournament in the nation. When I was in college I had a professor who used the projector to show the first day Big East tournament, it was that big an event to real fans. (And I was at a commuter school in Ohio at the time, not Syracuse or something). Knowing that my team, the team that I've followed since before I could walk, will be playing on that big a stage gives me the chills.
Am I worried about anything? Only that a little bit of our prized underdog status disappears when the Big East logo shows up on the home court. Part of being a Xavier fan has always been playing that "disrespected" card. You can see that in the way anyone in the program bridles at being called a mid major or in the way fans immediately dismiss anyone who pronounces it "Eggs-avier." Some of that edge is going to go when X suddenly becomes the perceived big gun that the lower level teams want to take out. Honestly, I'll miss that a bit. There's always been a camaraderie with other Xavier fans that I'm afraid might wane with more exposure bringing on bandwagon jumpers.
RITG: Which other Big East team are you excited to see in action next year?
DB: Denver, of course. No, Georgetown has to be the team for me. When Joel and I were kids and we weren't pretending to be Gary Lumpkin and Lenny Brown, we pretended to be Alonzo Mourning and Patrick Ewing. The Hoyas are synonymous with big school, east coast basketball, at least in our family. I need to brush up on my Big East rivalries, in case I've just inadvertently offended some readers. We all really strongly dislike Syracuse even though they're gone, right? I'm on board with that.
RITG: What does next season look like? Who leaves the program? Who is new? Who returns? Who is expected to be the on-court leader(s)?
DB: Travis Taylor is gone, and he was an absolute monster inside, but other than three point specialist Brad Redford, there are no other losses. (Do you hear me Jeff Robinson!? I don't miss you!!) Semaj Christon is the guy to watch. He led the team in points and assists as a freshman, is absolutely electric in the open court or on the drive, and cannot shoot even one little bit.
Matt Stainbrook transferred in from Western Michigan last year and will be eligible this year. He had a reputation as being mouthy and lazy, but he dropped close to 40 pounds in the year here and quickly became a fan favorite because of his lighthearted Twitter feed and the bowtie he wore on the bench. Oh, and he went for 18 and 8 against Duke in 2011, so he can play a bit too.
The incoming freshman class is stacked. Brandon Randolph, Kamall Richards, and Aleksander Vezenkov all arrive this year. Myles Davis and Jalen Reynolds were ruled ineligible last year in yet another sterling NCAA decision, so they have a year with the team already, but no court time. Add that group to Isaiah Philmore, Justin Martin, and Dee Davis and you have the base for another serious contender.
RITG: In 100 words or less, explain your last season (or last three).
DB: Rebuilding. Xavier lost Tu Holloway, the polarizing Mark Lyons, Kenny Frease, Andre Walker, and Dez Wells before the season had even started. That left Coach Mack with exactly zero members of his starting five and a program in turmoil after the Wells debacle. [That's my favorite article I've written at Banners, just linked it in case you weren't familiar with the whole mess]. Xavier jumped out to great start, but all the will in the world couldn't replace the talent deficit. The season ended with a Philmore missed layup that would've won a Atlantic 10 tournament game. All told, it wasn't a pretty year, but it was the kind of year every program faces from time to time.
RITG: What's the big concern about next season?
DB: How does all the young talent mesh? Xavier loaded with players, no doubt. There's also no doubt that Christon is the man. Beyond that, it's all questions. If Myles Davis shoots, if Dee Davis gets stronger, if Jalen Reynolds is the next Travis Taylor, if Justin Martin becomes the player he should be, if Philmore plays like he did the second half of the season, if Stainbrook's play matches the work he's done on his frame, if James Farr sheds the baby weight, if Randolph and Richards bring some toughness, this team walks into the Sweet 16.
That's eight "if's," and I was just warming up. Most of them should happen, but if some of them don't then this could look like UCLA of a couple years back: masses of talent, no results.
RITG: Bonus question: give a reason to visit the area around the school's campus/ arena.
DB: Because you won't find a better game atmosphere anywhere. If you are in town for a game, even one against a dreadful team, you'll know it the minute you hit campus. Xavier does basketball and only basketball, and every person involved with the gameday prep is focused and committed. Tom Eiser, the SID, allowed me to attend Senior Night a couple years ago and watch the behind the scenes work that went into it. Even knowing what was going to happen, I was amazed at home every moving piece came off.
As far as the area, fans hit Dana's before and after games to get into the proper mood. I, personally, cannot recommend the Rock Bottom Brewery downtown highly enough. The Riverwalk downtown is beautiful at night, but can be a bit chilly in February. Full disclosure: I'm from Cleveland so I rely on our awesome Twitter following for advice when I hit Cincy for games.
RITG: Rumor has it you are the man to hit up for everything [about a major singer with formerly lustrous hair]. True? [Our friends at Banners did some security work for some concerts.]
DB: Ok, a [Major Singer] story. I work near Mr. [Major Singer] and Joel (also at Banners) works crowd, so our experiences are a bit different. As I was setting up the barriers at the last concert a woman in her mid-50's approached me and asked if she could have a word. Being my professional self, I asked how I could help. With all the earnestness her level of inebriation allowed she began to to explain to me that her back and shoulder were sore, mostly from age, and that she really loved [Major Singer With Formerly Lustrous Hair and a Memorable Baritone].
I patiently listened as she rambled until I sensed we were reaching the crux of the issue. She leaned over the barrier and said, and I swear this is true, "young man, I'm just afraid I can't throw my panties all the way to the stage from here. Do you think you could help me?" I am still uncertain whether she needed my throwing arm or simply some help getting closer, but the tidal wave of laughter from my co-workers bore her away before I could follow up.
Next show, I'm trying to look less approachable.
And with that, we thank Brad from Banners On The Parkway for joining us. Check out the work he does with their site - it will be another good source to become more familiar with the Musketeers before the season.
More from Rumble In The Garden:
- In brief: getting to know the Xavier Musketeers
- St. John's non-conference schedule - Syracuse, three games in Brooklyn, and more
- Anthony Glover a/k/a the Corrections Officer making presence felt at Nike Pro City
- Big East Summer Q&A: DePaul Blue Demons
- Dwight Hardy back to Italy with Serie A
- YES Network reaches deal with FOX Sports, to televise limited Big East games