When you get right down to it, the basketball season ends well for one team and one team only—the national champion.
And so, of course I was disappointed when ours ended with a First Four game.
It would have been great to see how much further this team could go, and to go down to Orlando (and beyond) with them to find out. Regrettably, it wasn’t to be.
But after getting my perspective back, a number of things occurred to me:
• This team was projected to finish seventh in the Big East preseason poll, but finished third, its overall record 21-13.
• This team played and won the first game Xavier University ever played in the Big East—defeating St. John’s on New Year’s Eve, 70-60. (That game was also the first game played by the new Big East.)
•This team played and won the first Big East Tournament game that Xavier University ever played, defeating Marquette, 68-65.
• This team scored Xavier’s eighth 20-win season in the last nine years and got us back to the Big Dance after a one-year sabbatical.
• And this team beat the University of Cincinnati in December, 64-47, and then, to show that was no fluke, beat Creighton in February, 75-69.
Not a bad list of accomplishments, when you get right down to it.
And there were plenty of other highlights along the way. You each have your favorite, I’m sure. Mine was our victory over Georgetown on Jan. 15. I cut my teeth on Big East basketball when I was at Georgetown during Patrick Ewing’s sophomore and junior years, so I had looked
forward to welcoming Georgetown to Cintas for longer than I can say. After an initial disappointment, we roared back from 17 points down to win big, 80-67. That’s one to remember for a long, long time.
In the Big East Tournament itself, in Madison Square Garden in New York City, the inevitable detractors sniffed and said it wasn’t up to the old standards. (Don’t you believe them, by the way. Our conference RPI is either third or fourth depending upon which version you use.)
But the new standards were pretty impressive, and I’ve been telling everyone I know to circle the dates for next year’s Tournament—March 11-14—because, trust me, you want to be there.
Along the way, our admissions and alumni offices collaborated on joint events in a variety of cities in conjunction with Big East games—Chicago, Milwaukee, Indianapolis, Washington, D.C. A much larger media footprint means we can get the word out about Xavier University to more people—always a good thing.
Forbes magazine put the proverbial cherry on top of the proverbial sundae, announcing recently that we were one of the top 20 most valuable basketball programs in the country—No. 17 to be exact, the only program from the Big East to be so noted and the only basketball-only school in the country as well.
And in May, Justin Martin, Matt Stainbrook and Tim Whelan are on pace to be the 92nd, 93rd and 94th Xavier men’s basketball seniors to graduate in a row—a reminder that, when it comes to graduation success, Xavier men’s basketball is tied for 12th in the nation and is tops in the Big East.
No, not a half-bad season at all.
But speaking of the Big East Tournament, here’s a memory I’ll cherish. The day after the Marquette game, I accompanied 40-plus Xavier students to a food warehouse in the Bronx for a service project. (We’d cut a deal with students who came to the Tournament that we’d help cover their costs if they did a service project. Turns out we were the only Big East school to do so.)
For about three hours, we repackaged more than six and a half tons of cabbage, enough to provide more than 11,000 meals. We had an absolute ball doing it.
What made it even better was that Marquette alums had done the same project recently, but they didn’t even repackage four tons of cabbage. Great, don’t you think, to beat Marquette twice in two days, 68-65 and 6½-4?
I sense the beginning of a new tradition here: not just beating Marquette, but coupling the Big East Tournament with service opportunities. Sounds to me like The Xavier Way.
March is ending as I write these words and April will be upon us fast, the busiest month in the University’s year. The deeper into spring we go, the more end-of-the-year events we’ll have, all fitting ways to say thank you and goodbye to wonderful students and a wonderful year.
I know where I’ll be on the evening of April 29. I’ll be reliving the season as Coach Mack hands out team awards at the season ticket holders’ reception. I hope you’ll be able to be there with me.
God’s best blessings to you and all those you love. And, Let’s Go X!