By: David Woeltz ~Staff Writer~
Xavier basketball reached new heights this season. It also experienced an excruciating low. The 2015-16 team fell short of postseason expectations, but it was one hell of a ride.
After reaching the Sweet 16 last season with an unheralded squad, Xavier entered this year with aspirations of a deep tournament run. The Musketeers, who started the season unranked, quickly surpassed preseason expectations in the AdvoCare Invitational. Xavier dismantled rival Dayton in the tournament championship 90-61 to set the stage for a perfect nonconference finish.
Freshman point guard Edmond Sumner showed flashes of stardom by leading Xavier to a Crosstown Shootout victory over Cincinnati. Even with a hot start, Sumner’s injury during a blowout loss against Villanova forced the Musketeers to start their Big East slate overlooked once again.
The Musketeers responded to the Villanova loss by winning 12 of their next 14 contests to set up a rematch with the defending Big East champions. Xavier had yet to beat Villanova since joining the conference, which raised the stakes even higher. The Musketeers finally got over the hump with a 90-83 victory over the No.1 ranked Wildcats in the only top five matchup in Cintas Center history.
The Musketeers showed their prowess in conference play by relying on their depth, with star sophomore Trevon Bluiett leading the way. Bluiett, who averaged 15.1 PPG and 6.1 RPG, was one of seven Musketeers who played at least 19 minutes per game.
Senior James Farr had a standout year with 10.7 PPG and 7.8 RPG. Myles Davis added a steady hand and cold blooded shooting with 10.8 PPG.
Xavier started the Big East tournament with an impressive 90-72 victory over Marquette after capturing the two seed with a 14-4 conference record. The semifinals proved disastrous, however, as the Musketeers ran into the Seton Hall buzzsaw in a four point loss.
Despite the early exit, Xavier still received a two seed in the NCAA Tournament, but a gutwrenching loss to Wisconsin at the buzzer in the Round of 32 sent the Musketeers home early.
“Obviously not the outcome that we expected, wanted,” head coach Chris Mack said. “Really, really tough locker room. Told the players in the locker room that the sun will shine tomorrow. It doesn’t feel like it, but it always does. And just grateful. We had an unbelievable season. It’s hard to end this way.”
Xavier (28-6, 14-4) reached its highest national ranking in program history at No. 4 and consistently stayed in the top 10. The Musketeers were the first Division I team to reach 20 wins, and their 28-win season is tied for the second- most in school history.
The season may have ended abruptly, but the program is on the rise, and Chris Mack, who just signed a contract extension, returns a team capable of reaching new program heights next season.