CINCINNATI — Senior days are always good for reflection, for remembering how a certain class has helped a program grow.
Xavier doesn’t have much time for reflection in Saturday’s home finale at the Cintas Center against sixth-ranked Villanova. The Wildcats pose way too many challenges for the Musketeers to fawn longingly about what Dee Davis and Matt Stainbrook have meant to them. Villanova rolled to an 88-75 win when the teams played on Jan. 14 in Philadelphia. It wrapped up a share of the Big East regular season title with a win against Providence Tuesday night and with a 26-2 record the Wildcats are in position to be a Top-2 seed in the upcoming NCAA tournament.
Game time is 2 p.m. on Fox.
Villanova made 15 3-pointers against Xavier in the first game and led 45-27 at halftime. It’s an effort the Musketeers can’t afford to repeat.
"If we don’t, we’re going to get killed," said Xavier coach Chris Mack. "It starts with how hard you play. The thing about Villanova is when you watch them you come away with everything they’ve done all year, and even a year ago. They don’t take nights off. They don’t take plays off. Their guys play extremely hard. They play desperate."
Xavier (18-11, 8-8 Big East) could use a little desperation in their play. The Musketeers are coming off a tough 58-57 loss at St. John’s Monday night and a win against Villanova would secure no worse than a .500 record in the Big East, rated the No. 2 conference in the RPI.
Xavier’s resume is solid with an RPI of 30 (as of Friday) and it owns a 9-7 record against teams in the top 100, but the 11 losses could become troublesome. They got into the NCAA tournament last season with a 21-12 record but were forced to play in the First Four at Dayton where they lost to North Carolina State.
The Musketeers have only a road game at Creighton next Saturday before the Big East tournament starts in New York on March 11.
Stainbrook and Davis epitomize Xavier’s inside-outside attack. Stainbrook (6-10, 270 pounds) is one of the best passing big men in the country, averaging 2.5 assists per game as well as 11.6 points and 6.7 rebounds. Davis is second in the Big East and 13th in the nation in assists, averaging 6.1 per game. Xavier leads the Big East and is No. 7 in the nation averaging 16.9 assists per game, a stat that has helped the Musketeers average 75.1 points per game, second in the league to Villanova’s 75.6.
"There won’t be any tears (Saturday)," said Stainbrook, who transferred to Xavier after two seasons at Western Michigan. "I’m going to do my best to not think about that kind of stuff, to be focused on the game. I’ll deal with all of the emotions and all of the feelings afterwards. I’m sure they will hit me full force then."
Davis learned behind Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons as a freshman for a team that reached the Sweet 16. He has started 82 of 89 games since his sophomore season.
Davis’ first official game was against Morgan State in the 2011-12 season opener. Xavier won 74-63 and Davis played 22 minutes. He took two shots, making one of them, and one rebound to go along with two assists and two steals in the game.
That wasn’t his first time on the court for the Musketeers, however. Xavier played Bellarmine College, the defending Division II national champions, in an exhibition game. Bellarmine had beaten Xavier in an exhibition the previous season. Davis’ first memories of being on court weren’t as great as he’d like them to be.
"I got blocked by one of my former teammates and friends that was about 5-11 or shorter than I am," said Davis. "They were good but I didn’t do as well as I thought I was going to do my first game."
Things have gotten much better for Davis since then. He’s grown into his role of being traditional point guard. He has a pass-first mentality, something that he has had to learn after being a top scorer in high school while leading Bloomington South to two Indiana 4A state titles in three seasons.
Xavier has been to the NCAA tournament eight of the last nine seasons and 12 of the last 14. A win Saturday against Villanova would strengthen the Musketeers’ cause in making this year’s tournament field.
"With Dee and Matt, I think about the turmoil those two brought us through," said Mack. "They were here when Dez Wells was dismissed from the school. They were here when Mark Lyons didn’t return. When Jalen (Reynolds) and Myles (Davis) were ruled ineligible by the NCAA. They were here at a tough time and those two guys have been rock solid. They’ve gotten Xavier to the point now they made an NCAA tournament a year ago joining a new conference, a better conference, and they have our team poised on another NCAA tournament.
"It’s a credit to what those guys have fought through and worked really hard for over the last couple of years. They’re going to be missed, but we’ve got more basketball to play."