MILWAUKEE -- Xavier knocked off Pittsburgh 71-68 to advance to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament, and in case you haven't noticed -- and the Musketeers think it's about time you did -- this is a pretty darn good program.
|'I don't know a lot of mid-majors that make three consecutive Sweet 16s,' Jason Love says. (US Presswire)|
Actually, that term "mid-major" really rankles some feathers, and not merely with Xavier. Personally, I never use it because it's so poorly defined. And it's a good thing, too. It's getting to the point where those who get that label applied to them recoil and snap like you have called them some horrible, politically incorrect name.
Ask Jason Love. Someone made the mistake of asking what he felt their identity as a mid-major was.
"I don't feel like we're a mid-major at all," Love said. "You look at our schedule, we played some of the best teams in the country. I don't know a lot of mid-majors that make three consecutive Sweet 16s. So you can throw that out of the door right now."
Love said that with a look that suggested that he might like to throw the questioner out of the door.
Head coach Chris Mack wasn't too thrilled with that label, either.
|Xavier vs. Pittsburgh|
Recap: Xavier 71, Pittsburgh 68
"I really take offense to the comment you made earlier," Mack said to that same questioner later. "We don't look at ourselves anything but being a high-major program, from the way we travel to the way we recruit to the amenities our kids enjoy."
He has a point. Xavier has been to two Elite Eights and another Sweet 16 in the last five years. That does not include this year's run, which will be at least that good, but isn't over yet. Gonzaga hasn't been to the Elite Eight since 1999. Butler has never been there. Since 2004, the Musketeers have 12 NCAA tournament victories, more than any other school outside the Big Six leagues, except Memphis.
They were able to make that run with three different head coaches. Coaching changes are typically the thing that torpedoes the success of programs like Xavier, but the transitions have been seamless and the winning continues.
That lack of respect, perceived or real, is what’s driving the Musketeers. Xavier plays like a team with a chip on its shoulder. They fight for every rebound and scrap for every loose ball.
Today, they withstood Ashton Gibbs' 18 first-half points, and put together a 16-0 run to build a halftime lead. Then, they all but shut down Gibbs in the second half.
The Musketeers withstood a 10-0 run by the Panthers (who -- let the record show -- are a pretty tough and resilient team also) that cut the lead to one by turning to their big guy, Love, who got fouled in close and calmly knocked down four free throws to stem the tide.
They withstood another late charge by Pittsburgh, which cut the lead to three and had the ball with six seconds left, but couldn't score.
So, Kansas State might want to tread carefully. The Wildcats shouldn't rile these guys up.
And one more thing. Just in case you think this team is due for a fade, you should know that Love is the only senior. They could be even better next year. Maybe they will have their respect by then.