Well folks, we’ve made it. We’ve made it to the Gameday of Auburn’s first ever appearance in the Maui Invitational. While many Auburn fans dream of a possible matchup with Duke, they will have to get by Xavier first. Xavier was a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament last year but lost several key players and their head coach in the offseason. In order to learn more about Xavier, I talked with Bryan Dobney from Banners on the Parkway, the Xavier SB Nation site, for some insight on the Musketeers. My thanks to him for answering my questions.
With (head coach) Chris Mack off to Louisville and the promotion of Travis Steele, how different will Xavier looking going forward from a coaching standpoint?
It is a bit hard to say at this point, with this being Steele’s first head coaching gig at any level. With Mack, there were a few growing pains early on as he learned the trade and we saw that with Steele against Wisconsin with some of the adjustments he took a little longer to make. He definitely seems like a players’ coach, and it is telling that there was overwhelming support for him to get the job when Mack left from both former and current players.
In addition to losing Mack, the Musketeers lost guys like Trevon Bluiett and J.P. Macura to graduation. Who looks to step up this season and fill the void those guys left?
That is the question of Xavier basketball this year. In terms of usage rate, Xavier lost their top 4 players from last year, plus Kaiser Gates who was second in both threes taken and three point percentage behind Bluiett. Naji Marshall was on the All Big East Freshman team last year and has been getting better as the season goes after losing 15 pounds in 4 days to sickness right before the opener. Tyrique Jones lost 25 pounds on purpose this summer in order to be able to exert himself in the post for longer stretches and Paul Scruggs and Quentin Goodin are both very good guards in transition and can create for themselves and others off the bounce. Ryan Welage is going to be counted on to be the sharpshooter this year, although early returns have been feast or famine from him.
The Big East looks to be wide open this year, with Villanova being the favorites. Where do you see Xavier in terms of where it will finish in the Big East this year?
We were picked to finish 6th, which I think is fair considering the logjam the middle of the league looks to be this year. Nova is always going to be considered the favorite, but the 8 spots between them and DePaul (who is actually much improved this season) are very open this year. If this team gets the defense figured out, a bye at MSG remains a possibility. If they make the pick and roll look like the basketball version of the Swan Kick like they did against Wisconsin, it could be a long season. Anywhere in that middle pack seems reasonable, and I will say 4th because I have faith.
Talk about the state of basketball in the city of Cincinnati. (For many of us in the South, we don’t tend to think about how big the rivalry is between Xavier and Cincinnati.)
I think as highly of this rivalry as I do poorly of the dreck this city calls chili. The Crosstown Shootout is always an absolute grudge match, which frequently involves players talking trash in the media in the lead up, plenty of technicals and chippy play to go around, and that one time a giant, season altering brawl that saw the game moved to a neutral site for 2 seasons. Even when we hammered them last year, UC’s coach had to be restrained from trying to fight one of our players in the post game handshake line. We hate them, they hate us, there is none of the mutual respect or even common decency you see in other major rivalries. I hope they lose every game they play for the rest of eternity.
What is the significance of Xavier playing in the Maui Invitational and what do you hope to see out of Xavier in their time in Hawaii?
Going to Maui is another step in the upward trajectory the program has been on since Bob Staak took over in the late 70’s. From there, there have been conference shifts, tournament runs, and a gradual rise to becoming a staple of the NCAA Tournament and the national conversation as a whole. The first 1 seed in program history was another major milestone, and being in an event rubbing shoulders with some of the sports blue bloods is another confirmation of where this program is now.
What is your score prediction for this game?
I’m an optimist by nature, but after seeing you guys run Washington off the floor, I am not holding out a lot of hope. I think X will show better than against Wisconsin, but I also think Auburn is a better team than Wisconsin. 86-75 Auburn. Please beat Duke.
And there you have it, thanks again to Bryan for answering our questions. Should be a good one this afternoon at 1:30 on ESPN2.