Despite loss, Xavier exceeded all expectations -- except its own

Chris Mack and Xavier were on the bubble heading down the stretch of the season. (USATSI)
Chris Mack and Xavier were on the bubble heading down the stretch of the season. (USATSI)

BROOKLYN – Chris Mack never concerned himself with what prognosticators thought of Xavier heading into the season.

As a result, when Xavier lost a heartbreaker to Saint Joseph’s in the final seconds of the Atlantic-10’s first-round meeting, the fourth-year head coach wasn’t sure how to answer whether his team had exceeded expectations.

“It depends who made the predictions,” Mack said.

In the preseason, no matter which outlet or media member or expert made a projection, it generally didn’t look great for the Musketeers. They were picked ninth in the preseason Atlantic 10 poll, and many people had them even lower than that heading into the season.

After all, Xavier lost three seniors off last year’s team – in addition to starters Mark Lyons (Arizona) and Dezmine Wells (Maryland), who are both playing key roles at other schools this season.

“There were people out there who didn’t feel we would make the conference tournament,” Mack said, “that we wouldn’t be there until the end.”

So Mack was surprised at the team’s solid performance? Well, not really.

“We didn’t exceed our own expectation, and that’s the only one that matters,” he said.

Xavier finished 9-7 in conference play and had performed well enough to be on the periphery of the bubble down the stretch of the season. The Musketeers beat five top-50 teams, including Memphis and Saint Louis in the final three weeks of the season.

Had they made a run to the conference championship game, who knows, the Musketeers might have sneaked up and grabbed an at-large bid.

While Isaiah Philmore’s missed lay-up at the buzzer likely relegates Xavier to the NIT, just being in this position is impressive when you look at what the Musketeers had coming into the season.

Travis Taylor and his 4.5 points per game was the leading returning scorer, and only five players that saw any sort of extended minutes were back from a year ago. It was hard to see exactly how Xavier would play itself into the Atlantic 10 race.

Yet here they were, in late February, at 8-4 in the conference and right in the mix for the title.

“Up until that point, we felt that we were playing for a conference championship,” Mack said. “12 or 13 games into the season, for a team that lost all five starters, I’m proud of our kids.”

The loss to Saint Joseph’s will certainly leave a sour taste in their mouth as they head home to Ohio – it is unclear if and where Xavier will play another game this season – there is plenty to be excited about going into next season. Freshman stud Semaj Christon returns, and Mack gets the services of incoming recruit Brandon Randolph and a couple of players who redshirted this season.

Next year, though, Xavier won’t be sneaking up on anyone.

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