1. There was a point where all your teams were flirting with the bubble either in the middle or even toward the end of the season. What happened to turn things around and ultimately land in the dance? Who were the key players who stepped up?
For Xavier, this question is a one word answer: chemistry. With all the changes that took place in the offseason it was hard to know how the players would respond to a completely changed landscape. Early on they weren't responding well and X was losing games because of it. It was easy to see that Jordan Crawford was trying to take over games without involving any of his teammates and everyone on the floor was getting quickly frustrated. As the team went through more and more games though they all learned each others talents and started playing to the team's strengths. Our quick guards pushed the ball up the floor when the opportunities arose as well as pounding it inside to Jason Love in the half court set. As they started relying on each other more and more Xavier started to win big games and it was evident they were gaining momentum, which has lasted all the way through till the postseason.
From a player standpoint, the main reason for this great turnaround is Jason Love and his incredible leadership. Love became the winningest player in Xavier history this season, but early on I suspect he saw his senior season going to waste, something that almost never happened to other Xavier greats. Love brought this team together with his incredible work ethic and unselfish play inside, showing his teammates that working together was the only way they were going to accomplish anything. I hope Jason goes deep into the NCAA's once again because the man certainly deserves it.
2. Give your coach a grade for his coaching job this season.
I'm going to use a +/- grading scale just so I can give Chris Mack an A+. There has never been more uncertainty coming into a season for Xavier than there was for this season (at least since I've been alive). In the past coaches have come and gone, but there was always a clear cut candidate that most fans knew was getting the job and it was a relatively smooth transition. Sean Miller bolting for Arizona (after he said he wouldn't...TWICE) and Derrick Brown becoming Xavier's first ever early entry into the NBA draft really rocked the foundation of our developing program and left alot of questions for what was going to happen next.
In stepped Chris Mack, a former Xavier player in the early 90's and an experienced assistant under Skip Prosser and Sean Miller. Mack wasn't initially thought of as the head candidate for the job but was definitely under consideration as the players and fan community already knew him. After he was named head coach and the season started Mack certainly had his skeptics (huge understatement) as he battled through some tough losses early in the season. This is where Mack was really impressive, dealing with a team full of individuals and bringing them together through one of the toughest stretches of their schedule. Getting talent like Crawford, Holloway, Jackson and Lyons to play together while sharing time at the guard spots was truly what turned Xavier into a more cohesive unit, something Mack knew about from being a guard in college. His leadership and optimism through the brutal, early schedule carried his young team through to the hot streak it's currently on and will hopefully continue throughout the tournament.
3. Who is going to be the X-Factor for your team in the postseason?
This is a tough one for Xavier but if Jamel McLean keeps playing at the same level he has been over the past 2 months, he'll be the X-factor. Most teams don't have a 2nd big man with the incredible athleticism that McLean possesses and this makes it easy for him to get loads of rebounds, especially on the offensive end. Alot of NCAA games are won by the team that controls the paint and if Jamel steps up to anchor the middle with Jason Love there's a good chance Xavier will win that battle in any game.
4. Play bracketologist and break down your team's draw in the bracket? What are your expectations now that the path is out there for every one to see?
I was definitely happy with Xavier getting a 6 seed in the West because there was no real chance to get anything higher and the West may be the easiest region, especially with Onuaku out for Syracuse. Xavier has already played a few teams in this bracket during the season (Kansas St., Butler and Florida) so there could be some familiar matchups if X makes it past the first 2 rounds. Round 1 might not be so easy though as they drew Minnesota in Milwaukee, a team that's on a hot streak and is also playing close to home. The one thing that scares me more than any of the Gophers' players is their coach, Tubby Smith. He's been deep in the NCAA tournament many times, even winning it all with Kentucky back in 1998, and knows how to control a game. Xavier certainly has the better corps of players but this should make for an interesting showdown early on.
If they can make it past the 1st round, it's wide open in the West region and there's no reason Xavier can't make a deep run. I expect them to get past Minnesota in a tight game and then use that momentum to down Pitt in the 2nd round. After that it will be hard to expect much, but this team has come such a long way from their first game this season. They're playing like a team now more than ever and I'd be surprised if it didn't carry into the tournament.
5. Prediction Time: How far does your team go.
Xavier's on a great run right now and I don't see it ending early in this tournament, especially with their recent track record in the postseason. Look for X to make its 3rd Elite 8 in 6 years.