Marquette squares off with #7 Xavier on Saturday at the Bradley Center, so we thought it was prudent to do a little asking around about the Musketeers. We sent some questions towards Caleb Childers from Banners On The Parkway, our SB Nation sister site, and here's what he had to say about the team we like from Cincinnati. Our questions are in bold, Caleb's answers are in ... not bold.
1) #7 in the country, just one loss on the year, and that one has a big asterisk next to it.... Be honest: No one connected to the Xavier program saw any of this coming this year, did they?
No, not at all. Everyone sensible in Xavier Nation thought that this team was going to be better then last year's team, but no one expected us to be this good. James Farr has been better and better each year, so his breakthrough was somewhat expected, but the depth of this team has been amazing to see. This year's Xavier team feels so different from teams of the past. No one saw this coming at all, but right now we're all drinking the Kool-Aid and we're dreaming big.
2) I have a theory about the Musketeers, but I don't know how to prove it. Here it is: Xavier is better this year than last year because they're playing nearly seven possessions faster which is more than just a shot clock shortening bump, AND the reason that they're playing faster now is because Matt Stainbrook's not on the roster any more. Thumbs up or thumbs down on that one?
I'll give you a thumbs up on that one. That's not the only reason why Xavier is so good this year, but quickness is definitely a part of it. This years Xavier team has improved dramatically on defense compared to last year. They're playing more physical, and having James Farr and Jalen Reynolds as our big men has helped tremendously on defense. Another reason why this team has been so good is the depth. In the past I would be terrified anytime a starter left the court because the bench was inadequate. Now we have JP Macura, Larry Austin, Jr., Sean O'Mara, and others who all come in and keep the intensity up.
I loved having Matt Stainbrook on the team, and he was a great player for us, but there's no question that Farr and Reynolds are quicker and more athletic bigs. Our team this year is better then last year, and it's crazy to think we lost two veteran leaders heading into the season.
3) Who has been the biggest surprise contributor on the Xavier roster this season?
I have to go with Edmond Sumner. We knew he was talented coming in, but he missed last season with a medical redshirt so he was a bit of a question mark heading into this season. Sumner from the first game on has been incredible at how quick he is and how well he fits into this offense. The injury was brutal and it will be interesting to see how he plays on Saturday, but without a doubt he's been the biggest surprise this season.
Part of what makes him such a contributor is his position. We had a long time point guard in Dee Davis, so losing him placed a big confusion heading into this season. We would not be in the place that we are now if it wasn't for Sumner.
4) Rank the head coaches in Cincinnati according to who is the best overall coach: Marvin Lewis, Chris Mack, Mick Cronin, and Bryan Price.
Best overall coach without a doubt means Bryan Price is last. Dusty Baker was not seen as being a great in-game manager, but at least he was a player's manager. I'd probably rank them Chris Mack, Marvin Lewis, Mick Cronin, and Bryan Price, but there is a huge distance between Mack and Lewis. The entire city is still pretty down after that Bengals loss. The Steelers are the eternal annoying big brother, so losing to them was a horrible way to end the season. Cincinnati is a great city and there is so much going on there, but sadly we are lacking in the sports scene right now outside of Xavier's success. Luckily, Xavier is a top 10 team and everyone who isn't already on the train really needs to jump on.
5) I mentioned the asterisk on the loss to Villanova, and that would be the injury to Edmond Sumner. He got his head landed on just two minutes in to the Nova game and after an incredibly scary hospital trip, he hasn't played since. Xavier head coach Chris Mack announced late on Thursday that he will play against Marquette without any restrictions, but do you expect him to play a lot against Marquette? Do you think he should play against Marquette?
That play was so ugly. Not Paul George ugly, but still something not pleasant to see at all. Nothing malicious on it at all, just a play that ended horribly. Luckily, all of the news on him has been positive and he should *fingers crossed* not have any long term issues with it. He has not played since then, and that's honestly for the best. His health is much more important, so I'm happy to see that they've taken every precaution. He just started practicing with the team this week and is expected to play on Saturday. How much is the big question. My hunch is that he's not going to start and we will see Macura at tip off. Sumner is probably going to play about 10 minutes, but I'm not a doctor so I would not be shocked to see more minutes.
6) Oscar nominations came out on Thursday morning. I've seen a grand total of one movie nominated for Best Picture, and that was Mad Max. Have you seen more than that? Also, as a followup, should we riot if Mad Max doesn't win?
I actually just looked through the Oscar nom list and came to a big realization: I did not see that many movies this year. Somehow I managed to not see a single movie nominated for best picture. Therefore, I'm awarding the unofficial oscar to The Force Awakens, because that was the best movie I saw in theaters this year. And on the theme of unofficial oscars, I'm giving the saddest movie of the year award to Everest, because that movie manages to still hit you right in the feels despite the fact that you already knew how it would end.
But seriously, how long does it take for major movies to hit Netflix? I really need to catch up and see Fury Road.
7) We all know what Chris Mack looks like. But I've also seen Brian Neal, Xavier's women's basketball coach, and Andy Fleming, Xavier's men's soccer coach. I have to ask: are you guys running a coach cloning operation down there?
Shhhhh. Our clinic does not concern you.
All jokes aside, it is quite remarkable the job that these guys have done at Xavier without much hair. Xavier soccer was a complete joke when I went there and women's basketball struggled greatly during my senior year. Now we've seen Sweet 16 appearances in both men's basketball and men's soccer and the women's basketball team is on fire right now with a 13-3 record. I think the Big East has been a major upgrade for us, not just in basketball but in all sports, and I really do not miss the Atlantic 10 at all.
8) Ok, prediction time. Who's going to win on Saturday, and why?
I went to the Xavier-Marquette game in Milwaukee in 2014. At the time I was living on the west coast and found a great deal on a flight to O'Hare. That weekend was freezing cold and Xavier played awful. Because of that, I always believe that Xavier has to avenge that loss and play especially well against Marquette. I see Xavier winning this game 75-65 with the return of Sumner allowing the team to return to their non-conference play form.