Jan. 10, 2014
By Sean Brennan
They are one of the new kids on the BIG EAST block this season. But so far Chris Mack and his Xavier Musketeers are adjusting rather nicely to their new neighborhood.
"We're new to the BIG EAST but our fans are extremely excited about it," Mack said, Xavier's head coach. "Every league game here is like Armageddon. But as competitors you always want that kind of challenge."
So far the Musketeers have been more than up to any challenge thrown their way this season. The X-Men have sprinted to a 13-3 record to start the season and are an unblemished 3-0 so far in their maiden voyage in the BIG EAST.
"It's just a start," said Mack, now in his fifth season at the Musketeers helm. "We have a long conference schedule ahead of us and this is a very difficult conference."
You want to talk difficult? Let's talk Cintas Center and the long list of hapless opponents who have ventured into Xavier's home digs. Classic literature buffs would recall the infamous verse inscribed above the gates of hell in Dante's "Inferno" which read, "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here."
That friendly little reminder could also be at home hanging above the entrance to the Cintas Center as the Musketeers have made life a hellish experience for opponents since opening its doors in 2000. With a 11-0 home record already this season after Thursday's 86-79 win against Marquette, Xavier owns a 184-25 record in the Cintas Center's friendly confines, making it one of the most difficult places in the country for teams not named Xavier to play.
In fact, it's become so common place to play before sold-out houses that Mack knows the building's capacity down to the exact number.
"It holds 10,250 fans," Mack said. "And we usually get 10,250 fans for our games."
The Musketeers have already dispatched of St. John's, Butler and Marquette at home this season to open their conference season.
"The building is always buzzing when we're playing at home," Mack said. "Not in any way to diminish our move to the BIG EAST, it's great for our basketball program and recruiting, but Xavier has always drawn well. Basketball is king here. We don't have a football team. People get excited around here for Xavier basketball, only this year there is the added element of moving into the BIG EAST."
Xavier is led by sophomore sensation Semaj Christon, who leads the team in scoring at 15.6 points per game while Matt Stainbrook is the only other player to average in double digits at 11.1 points per outing. If you don't know much about Christon, you will. Mack blames Xavier's rare off year last season for Christon's lack of national recognition.
"You garner attention when you play at a high level and last season we didn't play at that level as a team." Mack said, referring to the Musketeers' 17-14 finish in the 2012-13 season. "Semaj had a phenomenal season (he was named the Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year) and we put a lot on his shoulders. But as a team we didn't win as much as we usually have last season so there wasn't as much notoriety individually or collectively. He did garner some preseason accolades this year but people still don't think of him as a household name like (Creighton's) Doug McDermott or (Ohio State's) Aaron Craft."
Expect that to change and soon. Xavier, with Christon and the rest of Mack's merry band of Musketeers, could very well be a major player in their first foray into the BIG EAST this season, up there with the likes of Villanova and Creighton among others.
"We sure hope so but time will tell," Mack said. "We never look in the rearview mirror. It's about what's in front of you. But I like our team. We have great respect for all of our opponents but we want to be one of the top programs in the conference."