It has been a tremendous first season at Xavier for Head Coach Chris Mack. When he took over for Sean Miller at Xavier, there were high expectations to continue the success that the program has had recently. In his first season, Mack has lived up to those expectations. Thanks to wins over Minnesota and Pittsburgh, the sixth seeded Musketeers are in the Sweet Sixteen for the third straight season. However, if the Musketeers want to get to the Elite Eight for just the third time in school history, Xavier will have to get past Kansas State. The Wildcats have been tremendous all season and in an earlier meeting between these two teams in Manhattan, the Wildcats beat Xavier 71-56. But this might be a different Musketeers team. After struggling just a little bit out of the gates with a pretty tough non-conference schedule, the Musketeers are entering the Sweet Sixteen with a lot of confidence having won 10 of their last 11 games and they will be looking to avenge one of their eight losses on the season on Thursday night in Salt Lake City.
Chris Mack joined WCKY in Cincinnati with Mo Egger to talk about the play of Jordan Crawford, what the team learned from the earlier meeting against Kansas State, and whether or not his team has seen a backcourt as good as the one that Kansas State brings.
On whether or not he looks at Jordan Crawford to take over games when other guys are struggling:
“No I really don’t. A lot of the opportunities that seem to get him going are out in transition. We play better defense, I think at one point we had nine straight stops against Pittsburgh, and when we do that he’s one of the best athletes in the country in the open court. He gets a couple going to the rim and it just seems like it ignites him. The last thing that I want to do is place all that pressure on Jordan and say you gotta take over when I think we have other really good players. There was a stretch in the second half where he really got it going and I’m on the bench a little bit worried because I don’t want the other four guys to all of the sudden just sit around and watch because eventually he’s gonna tire out. We’re gonna have to have more balance. Fortunately we were able to get the ball inside as I don’t want to say he cooled off a little bit, but they showed more attention to him.”
On how he is keeping his team focused on one game at a time:
“The thing about the NCAA Tournament is that it’s so quick, it’s so fleeting. I don’t care if you get to the second weekend or not, it’s gone in a week or two weeks or if you’re lucky enough to get to the Final Four it happens so quickly. You wanna savor every moment that you’re in the tournament. Whether it’s an open shootaround or whether it’s hanging with the fellas at a team meal because those are the memories that you’re gonna carry for a long time. I want our guys to enjoy it, but at the same time when the ball gets thrown up be desperate to win and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
On how his team and Kansas State are different from the first meeting:
“I think we’ve grown. I think Kansas State taught us a lesson in terms of how to handle pressure better. Nobody that we played on our schedule this year brings it defensively like Kansas State. They try to deny every pass, their five through their one, it doesn’t matter who’s on the ball, they pressure. That’s something that I think shocked our guys early on in the season. We learned from that. We made a few adjustments if we were ever to face a team like that again on how to handle it better. They’ve only lost seven games and three of them have been to Kansas so there’s a reason that they’re 28-7 and as highly thought of as they are. We’re gonna have to play well. I have no doubt that we will and we’re not going there to show up, we’re going there to win the game. That’s what were gonna try to do in Salt Lake.”
On the backcourt duo of Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente:
“Probably the only comparison you can make would be Richmond and the thing about Richmond is they put you in the grinder so much in the half court. I think Kansas State plays a very similar style to us offensively. They don’t mind pushing it, they average close to 80 points per game, and those two guys have taken I think half their shots this year for Kansas State. It’s one of the deals of those two guys are gonna shoot it and everybody else is gonna go get it. That mindset of offensive rebounding is a huge component to what Kansas State does. It’s a big challenge and probably two of the better guards we’ve faced all year.”