Hey, Matt Stainbrook. Your team just made it to its first Sweet 16 since 2012 and is the last of Big East team to still be playing after the first weekend of the country's favorite tournament. How do you feel?
Seems about right.
Stainbrook and his fellow X-Men were already riding quite a bit of momentum into the NCAA Tournament, after a surprise run to the Big East title game. Now, the Musketeers have won five of their last six games and are the final torch-bearers for the conference.
The Musketeers are not strangers to this leg of the tournament journey. From 2008 to 2012, they made it to the Sweet 16 three times, including a surprise run as the No. 10 seed in 2012.
But we're here to talk about the more recent past. Specifically, the last 90 hours.
First round fatality
In its first matchup of the weekend, Xavier got a date with 11th-seed Ole Miss, which somehow rallied past BYU in one of the four play-in games. The Rebels, just two days removed from a scoring marathon, were simply no match for the Musketeers, who appeared to have gotten over their heartbreaking loss to Villanova in the Big East championship. Xavier opened the game on a 16-5 run and never really looked back en route to a 76-57 win. It led by 12 at halftime and would go on to lead by as many as 20 in the second half. It was quite the change of pace for the first day of the tourney, which featured nine games decided by four points or less.
Stainbrook and Dee Davis were the stars of the day. Stainbrook showed off his ability to finish around the rim, clean the glass and pass out of the post, essentially emptying his entire utility belt all over the Rebels. He finished with 20 points, nine rebounds and five assists. Davis added in 17 points, including four 3-pointers, helping the Musketeers to a 30-18 scoring advantage from beyond the arc.
James Farr teamed up with Stainbrook on the interior, as did Jalen Reynolds, who played an important role in both games. Farr Windexed his way to 13 rebounds and Reynolds tallied six points and five rebounds off the bench. With their help, Xavier held a 44-39 advantage on the boards.
Xavier's ability to establish an inside presence was key, as it led to plenty of additional scoring opportunities at the free-throw line. Xavier attempted 21 foul shots and made 14. Meanwhile, Ole Miss shied away from the paint and managed to get to the line for only five attempts. In addition, Xavier's front line showed a wwillingnessto pass, with Stainbrook, Farr, Trevon Bluiett and Reynolds combining for 10 of the team's 17 assists.
Georgia State's R.J. Hunter had the most memorable shot of the first weekend, and likely the entire tournament. His parking-lot range buzzer-beater on Thursday lifted the 14th-seed Panthers to a stunning 57-56 upset win over Big 12 powerhouse Baylor.
It appears that Xavier did not receive the memo about Georgia State's fairy tale run. To be fair, it was not as easy a win as they had against Ole Miss, but the Musketeers once again started strong, opening the game on a 15-4 run, and then never trailed again.
However, they did get a scare early in the second half. They only had a four-point edge at the break and that lead was sliced down in the first five minutes of the second stanza, with Georgia State tying the game three times. But Xavier used a 16-6 run from the 15-minute mark onward to assert its dominance and turn the Panthers' upset dream into a nightmare.
Dee Davis sparked the critical run with a layup, part of his 15 points. He was the only Musketeer to score in double figures in both games of the first round. Myles Davis was a 3-point assassin against Georgia State, drilling five 3-pointers and finishing with 17 points in 29 minutes off the bench.
The limelight was really on Jalen Reynolds, however, as he mashed his way to 21 points, putting in 8-of-9 from the floor and all five attempts at the free throw line. Thanks enitrely to Reynolds and Myles Davis, the Musketeers owned a 38-19 scoring edge from reserves, exhibiting a depth that could prove exceptionally useful in the next round.
Just like in the first game, Xavier's clear dominance on the inside led to some impressive statistical advantages, if numbers are your thing. The Musketeers owned a 22-9 scoring edge from the free-throw line. In fact, they took nearly twice as many foul shots (25) as Georgia State (13). They also won the battle of the boards once again, securing 23 to the Panthers' 12.
One area that needs to be cleaned up from both early contests is ball control. Xavier was victorious twice despite having more turnovers than its opponent each time on the floor. It was a minuscule difference against Ole Miss (10-8), but against Georgia State, it was more of an issue (14-8).
Just like Lily James, Xavier must now take over the role of Cinderella, as it will face off with No. 2 seed Arizona in Los Angeles as part of the Sweet 16 on Thursday. This will be the first-ever meeting between the two programs. They had two opponents in common this season, with each facing Missouri and UTEP. Xavier lost to UTEP in the Wooden Legacy and routed Missouri on the road. Arizona topped both teams, playing the Tigers in the EA Sports Maui Invitational and UTEP in El Paso.