Chris Mack, 42, a graduate of St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati as well as Xavier University (after transferring from Evansville), has now taken the Musketeers to three NCAA tournaments in as many years. In 2009-10, Mack’s first season after taking over for Sean Miller (who left for the Arizona job), Xavier advanced to the Sweet 16.
In three years, Mack has won 71 games and lost just 29, including a 39-9 record in Atlantic 10 play. His first squad won 26 games, and knocked off mighty Pittsburgh to advance to the Sweet 16.
Mack joined the late Skip Prosser’s Xavier program in 1999 as Director of Basketball Operations. He followed Prosser to Wake Forest in 2001, and then returned to Xavier as an assistant to newly-named head coach Sean Miller.
Notre Dame and Xavier share three common opponents: Georgia, Cincinnati and Gonzaga. The Irish were 0-3 in those games while Xavier was 2-1. On Nov. 2, Notre Dame lost to Georgia in Kansas City, 61-57. On Nov. 30, the Irish were trampled at Gonzaga, 73-53. In the second Big East game of the season, on Jan. 4, Notre Dame lost at Cincinnati, 71-55.
Xavier defeated Georgia, 70-56, at home on Nov. 25. The Musketeers hammered Cincinnati, 76-53, in the infamous brawl game on Dec. 10. On New Year’s Eve, Xavier lost at home to Gonzaga, 72-65.
Note that the Irish played all three of those games away from home while Xavier took on Georgia, Cincinnati and Gonzaga on their own hardwood.
The Musketeers were 8-0 when they defeated Cincinnati on Dec. 10, but since the infamous fight with the Bearcats, they are just 13-12. Xavier is 5-7 against NCAA tournament teams after starting out by defeating Vanderbilt in overtime (82-70) on Nov. 28, Purdue (66-63) on Dec. 3, and Cincinnati (76-53) on Dec. 10.
They lost both regular-season games to St. Louis before knocking the Billikens off en route to the Atlantic 10 conference championship game. They fell to Long Beach State in Hawaii and Gonzaga at home on New Year’s Eve. They lost to Memphis on the road and Temple at home, and defeated St. Bonaventure during the regular season before falling in the conference tournament finale.
The Musketeers are led by the dynamic backcourt of Tu Holloway and senior Mark Lyons. Holloway averages 17.0 points per game while contributing 3.7 rebounds and 5.2 assists. The 6-foot-0 senior is a threat from three-point range (38-of-113, .345), but virtually automatic from the free throw line, where he is an .866 shooter (201-of-232).
Lyons is Xavier’s top three-point shooting threat, leading the team in attempts (139) and three-pointers made (55) for a sparkling .398 shooting percentage. Lyons, a 6-foot-1 junior, averages 15.5 points, 3.4 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game. He also is a very good shooter from the charity stripe (.780, 94-of-122).
Holloway and Lyons dominate Xavier’s offensive stats. They combine for .394 of the team’s shots, .542 of the three-point attempts, and .469 of the team’s free throws
Holloway leads the team in 20-point games with 14 while Lyons has seven to go along with five more games of at least 18 points. Holloway made all 14 of his free throws in a loss to St. Louis in January. Lyons scored 27 points in the same game.
Much like Notre Dame’s backcourt, as Holloway and Lyons go, so go the Musketeers.
Xavier’s third-leading scorer is Dezmine Wells, a 6-foot-5, 215-pound freshman from Raleigh, N.C. Wells scored 12 points in his collegiate debut against Morgan State and has maintained the pace. He has scored in double figures 15 times in 33 games. He shoots .518 from the field, predominately from two-point range. He has more turnovers (42) than assists (34).
Wells, who averages 10.2 points per game, was one of four Xavier players suspended for his part in the brawl with Cincinnati. He was sidelined for four games.
Kenny Freeze is Xavier’s big man, and boy, is he big. At 7-foot-0, 275 pounds, the senior averages 9.5 points and 6.1 rebounds per game.
But the season started out rocky for the Massillon, Ohio product. Mack suspended him the first day of practice back in October.
“Kenny has not handled his daily responsibilities on and off the playing floor that we expect from every one of our players here at Xavier,” Mack said.
“Until Kenny proves to me that he wants to be a part of our team by handling those responsibilities, he will not be a part of our program. I am hopeful that Kenny will work his way back to being a part of the team at some point.”
Freeze, who averaged 11.7 points and 7.1 rebounds as a junior, was in uniform for the first game of the 2011-12 season. He’s scored in double figures 19 times and is second on the squad in offensive rebounds with 65. He had 13 points and 13 rebounds in that one-sided victory over Cincinnati. He is a liability at the free-throw line, however, where he is converting at a .548 rate (54-of-104).
Xavier’s fifth-leading scorer (5.4 ppg.) is 6-foot-8, 225-pound Andre Walker, who is a fifth-year transfer from Vanderbilt, where he topped out in 2009-10 with a 6.1 scoring average in 25 minutes per game. After his playing time dropped to 17.7 last year, he decided to use his fifth-year of eligibility with the Musketeers, where he is averaging 5.8 rebounds per game in 2011-12.
Walker leads the team in offensive rebounds with 71. He probably won’t shoot more than a handful of times against the Irish, which is good for the Musketeers because he converts just .518 of his free-throw attempts (29-of-56).
Keep an eye on 6-foot-8, 220-pound junior Travis Taylor and 6-foot-1 junior Brad Redford off the bench. Taylor is third on the team in offensive rebounds with 50 despite logging just 15.7 minutes per game. Redford, who plays just 11.9 minutes per game, is third on the squad in three-pointers with 28.
Xavier has a mediocre 435-to-414 assist-to-turnover ratio. They shoot it well from the field (.456) and three-point range (.355). But if Holloway and/or Lyons aren’t shooting the free throws, they’re below average. The rest of the squad is just 208-of-374 from the line (.556).