Tag: Chris Mack

Chris Mack has Xavier back in the Sweet 16 (AP Photo)

Tradition of success through change raises expectations at Xavier

1 Comment
Chris Mack has Xavier back in the Sweet 16 (AP Photo)

LOS ANGELES — Tom Izzo and Rick Pitino have stellar reputations for winning in March, combining to reach the Sweet 16 13 times in the last eight seasons. They also happen to head the only two programs that can say they’ve been to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament more often during that time than Xavier, who has won at least two games in college basketball’s biggest event five of the last eight years.

There’s more.

Xavier has been to the NCAA tournament nine of the last ten seasons, something that only ten schools can claim. Five of them — Duke, Gonzaga, Kansas, Michigan State and Wisconsin — have been all ten years, which puts the Musketeers in a class with college basketball’s elite.

This current run has occurred under the watch of the two head coaches who will meet in a West Region semifinal Thursday night. Sean Miller, the head coach of No. 2 Arizona, ran the Xavier program from 2004-09, with his understudy and current head coach of No. 6 Xavier, Chris Mack, taking the reins from that point forward.

Mack was a member of Miller’s staff before getting promoted once Miller left for Tucson, and that is a storyline that has received an ample amount of attention this week. But there’s also the matter of continuity, and a look into that will reveal that both coaches had — or, in the case of Mack, have — tools at their disposal at Xavier that have helped the program both attain and sustain success despite multiple coaching changes and multiple conference affiliations.

“Everybody is aligned, and their basketball program is very important,” Miller said when asked about what stuck out to him during his eight years (assistant and head coach) at Xavier. “And because it’s very important, there are people that have given their heart and soul to make it the best it can be, whether it be the Cintas Center, and if you haven’t been there, in my opinion it’s one of the great arenas in the game that’s built right on campus. It’s a quest to be better every year. Never be satisfied.”

Those traits go well beyond the current ten-year run, with Xavier winning 21 or more games in 27 of the last 32 seasons going back to Bob Staak leading the Musketeers to 22 wins in 1982-83. Following Staak’s six-year run some familiar names have led the program, from Pete Gillen to the late Skip Prosser, and from Prosser to current Ohio State head coach Thad Matta who won 26 games in each of his three seasons (with Miller as one of his assistants) before moving on.

For some programs the coaching changes not only result in the occasional transition year, but a prolonged malaise of sorts where the act of winning 20 games in a season becomes something to celebrate as opposed to an achievement that is simply accepted.

“I would say that ever since Bob Staak and Pete Gillen, along with some great players, guys like Byron Larkin and Tyrone Hill and Derek Strong really put Xavier on the map, the expectations for Xavier basketball have been extremely high,” Mack said.

“Guys like Skip Prosser, Thad Matta, Sean, carried the torch and simply elevated the program to new heights. Our fan base has come to expect getting to the NCAA tournament, and that not even being acceptable, but to advance.”

The question for Xavier moving forward is whether or not those expectations have and will increase. When the Musketeers began this lengthy run of success in the early 1980’s they were a member of the Midwestern City Conference (which was eventually renamed the Midwestern Collegiate Conference and is now the Horizon League).

Since then the Musketeers have spent time in the Atlantic 10, and this is their second season as a member of the Big East. While the competition and traditions of the Atlantic 10 schools are nothing to scoff at, moving to the Big East changed the equation for Xavier and fellow newcomers Butler and Creighton.

“I think it’s been a natural progression for our program to go from the MCC, which is now the Horizon League, to the Atlantic 10, which was a great move at the time for Xavier, now to a conference that is arguably one of the best basketball conferences in the entire country,” Mack said of the conference moves. “It’s a hefty bar at Xavier.”

But does that move apply some sort of pressure to Xavier to get past the second weekend, despite the fact that many of the most powerful programs in college basketball can also tap into another revenue stream (major college football)? The program’s had the resources needed, from coaches to facilities to everything else that comes with college basketball, to be successful and Xavier’s history bears that out.

“That’s why when you look at seven Sweet Sixteens, when you look at [Xavier’s] tournament history…I was actually looking at our history at Arizona, which you could make the case is second to none,” Miller noted. “When you put up Xavier’s history, especially in the NCAA tournament, it’s amazing that there are some comparisons.”

While the final weekend of the college basketball season is obviously important, focusing solely on that can at times be at the expense of recognizing what’s been done leading up to that point. But as we’ve seen both this season and in years past, matchups have a lot to do with whether or not a program can navigate the bracket and reach the Final Four. And with those being unpredictable until the bracket is released, the best a program can do is to ensure that its coaches and players have everything they need to succeed.

Do that, and for many programs the one-game “lottery” that is the NCAA tournament eventually produces a favorable result. Will there be a point where a trip to the Final Four will be “demanded” of Xavier? Maybe so, but a lot of that depends upon factors such as seeding. Look at Gonzaga, which has transformed from a “Cinderella” program to one that’s been criticized in recent years for not backing up strong regular seasons with deep tournament runs (despite losing just one game to a lower-seeded team since 2009).

Whether or not questions are asked when it comes to the Final Four doesn’t matter, because they’re going to be there. All a program can do is assemble the resources needed to maximize their chances of breaking through, which is what Xavier’s worked hard to do over the years.

“The last level [Final Four] is the only thing that’s missing, and clearly they’re here to make that happen,” Miller added. “It’s just, I think, amazing when everybody cooperates and thinks the same, you have some really intelligent people at the top, how great things happen. The benefit in so many cases is the student-athletes, watching their experience and what they become when they leave the school.”

No. 6 Xavier advances with comfortable win over No. 11 Ole Miss

AP Photo
Leave a comment

Tuesday night West Region No. 11 Ole Miss was able to advance into the Round of 64 with a 94-90 win over BYU, scoring 62 points in the second half of that game. Faced with a far more formidable opponent from a defensive standpoint on Thursday, the Rebels’ season came to an end with a 76-57 loss to No. 6 Xavier.

Chris Mack’s Musketeers knocked down ten three-pointers, and in the second half they shot 55.6 percent from the field to put away a game they grabbed control of in the latter stages of the first half. Matt Stainbrook controlled things in the post for Xavier, tallying 20 points, nine rebounds and five assists. and guard Dee Davis added 17 points to lead the way offensively. Stainbrook’s fingerprints were all over the game offensively, with his skill set proving to be too much for Ole Miss to handle.

However for as good as they were at time offensively, what was even more impressive for the Musketeers Thursday afternoon was their play on the defensive end.

Ole Miss shot jut 32.9 percent from the field, and while some of that could be attributed to fatigue as they expended a lot of energy in Dayton two nights ago, the biggest issue for Andy Kennedy’s team was that Xavier didn’t allow them to establish much of anything. Stefan Moody, who was outstanding against BYU, scored 14 points on 5-for-18 shooting and more often than not the Rebels resorted to attempting challenged jump shots.

Ole Miss attempted 17 more shots on the afternoon, and in addition to shooting 6-for-27 from three they only attempted five free throws (making three). By comparison, Xavier shot 10-for-23 from three and 14-for-21 from the foul line as they were able to get better shots on their end of the floor.

Next up for Xavier is Georgia State, which edged No. 3 Baylor on an R.J. Hunter three-pointer with 2.9 seconds remaining. In order to advance to the Sweet 16 the Musketeers will need to be efficient offensively while also clamping down on the other end, and they’re definitely capable of doing so.

Xavier center gave up scholarship, became an Uber driver, so his brother could use the scholarship

Matt Stainbrook
Leave a comment
source: AP
Xavier center Matt Stainbrook (AP)

Xavier senior center Matt Stainbrook is the leading returning scorer and rebounder for the Musketeers this season, but the 6-foot-10 big man won’t be on scholarship.

That’s because Stainbrook opted to give up his basketball scholarship in order to give it to his younger brother, Tim, who was a freshman walk-on with Xavier last season. Matt Stainbrook, instead, will be one of the most productive walk-ons in college basketball this season.

According to a very entertaining read from Shannon Russell of the Cincinnati Enquirer, the elder (and bigger) Stainbrook is finishing up his MBA as a fifth-year student and his tuition is far cheaper than the undergraduate degree that his sophomore brother is pursuing.

Also wanting to live off-campus, which is tough to do at Xavier while on athletic scholarship, Matt decided he’d help out his parents and his brother by becoming a walk-on and earning some extra money as an Uber driver to help offset the difference.

“For my MBA, I think it costs about $14,000 a year. For undergrad, which is what Tim’s in, it’s like ($43,000). So even with the scholarship for academics he was getting, which wasn’t a ton, it’s a lot more expensive. I was like, ‘OK, I haven’t had any student loans in the past four years. Tim has worked hard. It’s not like the guy doesn’t deserve it.’ It made sense to me,” Matt Stainbrook said to Russell in the story.

Matt opting to transfer his basketball scholarship to his younger brother is a very generous and responsible move, but the idea of a 6-foot-10 Big East center as an Uber driver is mind-blowing.

Stainbrook told Russell that he’s made 100-plus trips as an Uber driver using his 2004 Buick Rendezvous and he’s been recognized a handful of times by fans.

Because Uber allows its drivers to work when they want, and log offline if they’re busy, it works out nicely with Stainbrook’s crowded schedule as a basketball player and MBA student.

If you ever had a car on campus as a college student like I did, you know that people will often ask for rides. So why not take advantage of that and make some extra money? Between Stainbrook saving his family money and using the resources he had to his advantage to earn extra money on the side, I’d say he’s going to put that future MBA to good use once he’s finished with his basketball career.