In recent years several teams which aren't high-majors have been making noise in the NCAA Tournament. Butler made two consecutive Final Fours. VCU made it as well in 2011. Gonzaga has heard their name called on Selection Sunday in 14 straight seasons. But in terms of long term consistency, it's hard to match Xavier. Since 1986 they've been to 21 NCAA Tournaments, and only once in those 27-years did the Musketeers miss in back-to-back seasons.
In that time they've seen a who's-who of coaches cycle through. Pete Gillen ('85-'94) left for a Big East job at Providence. He was replaced by Skip Prosser ('94-'01). When Prosser accepted the head coaching job at Wake Forest, Thad Matta was his replacement. After Matta ('01-'04) it was Sean Miller ('04-'09). And when Miller took over Arizona his assistant – Chris Mack – was hired.
When Sean Miller was asked how Xavier fans should feel having someone with no head coaching experience take over, he responded, "Xavier doesn't make mistakes."
Xavier fans hoped that Mack could be different than his predecessors. He didn't carry the appearance of the typical ladder-climbing coach. He graduated from Xavier, and made no attempt to hide the fact that coaching his alma mater was his dream. Xavier fans are tired of having their hoops coaches view XU as a stepping stone job, and are ready for someone to cement it as a destination. Mack might be that guy.
He inherited a number of talented players, and Xavier finished atop the A-10 his first two seasons. In his first season they fell short of the Elite 8 in a double-overtime thriller. In year two they were bounced in the first round.
Then last year happened. His team was involved in a high profile fight. Senior star Tu Holloway had a disappointing season – by his lofty standards – on the court. The team which began the regular season 8-0 finished 11-11. They lost to Hawaii!
But then, somehow, they almost turned it around in March. They made the A-10 finals, but lost. And they made it to the Sweet-16 (for the fourth time in five years), but lost by five to Baylor.
This means that Xavier lost all five starters from a year ago (three graduated), and their top returning scorer averaged 4.5 points a game.
So what is Chris Mack to do?
In the short term, it probably won't be pretty. It will be one of the great recent coaching accomplishments if Xavier is able to even make the Tourney this year. But the more important point is that all of the inherited players are gone. Holloway. Frease. Lyons. For the first time this is really Chris Mack's team. Is that a good thing?
If he can return Xavier to the cruise control they've been on since 1986, then he'll have done it from the bottom. And that's an accomplishment. His team is currently in a rough spot, but Chris Mack has the opportunity to have his name listed on the same level as Gillen, Prosser, Matta and Miller. But opportunity is one thing. Now we'll see if Mack has the coaching chops to make it happen – we'll see if Sean Miller was right that when it comes to hiring coaches, "Xavier doesn't make mistakes."