Finding value in the Sweet 16 

March, 21, 2012

A moment: Xavier, 4-0 at the time and on the road for the first time this season, visits Vanderbilt, then ranked No. 19 in the country. With a little less than 16 minutes left Vandy goes up by 10. But the Musketeers are scrappy, and they battle back to take a one-point lead less than five minutes later. The game seesaws back and forth until, with less than 10 seconds on the clock and Xavier down by two, Musketeers guard Mark Lyons spins past his defender for a game-tying layup. Xavier goes on to win by 12 in overtime.

A moment: As Wayne Drehs wrote beautifully about in this story in the magazine, Xavier is blowing out its hated crosstown rival, Cincinnati. Musky guard Tu Holloway starts talking trash, in response to taunts Cincy players had made earlier in the week. Talk turns to shoves which leads to Cincy's Yancy Gates throwing a sucker punch that connects with Xavier big man Kenny Frease's face, knocking the 7-footer to his knees and bloodying his eye. Xavier wins the game, its ninth straight to start the season, and shows it is a top-10 team. It then loses four of its next five.

A moment: In the second round of the tourney against Lehigh, Xavier makes the same mistake Duke did in the opening round: misjudging how motivated the smarty-pants from Lehigh would be to start a game. Late in the first half the Musketeers find themselves down by 14. It takes a 14-4 run to close out the opening 20 minutes to make the game respectable. Xavier builds on that momentum in the second half, outscoring the outmatched Mountain Hawks by 16 en route to an easy win.

So there you have it. Xavier is a Sweet 16 team that, at the beginning of the year, everyone expected to be at least that. Or Xavier is a Sweet 16 team that, midway through the year, no one expected to even make the tourney. In the Lehigh game, you saw plenty of evidence proving both theories. It was a tale of two halves. And, for handicappers, it's why playing the tourney is so tough. "You never know when a team, like Xavier, is going to have that five- or 10-minute stretch of playing like idiots," said Sal Selvaggio of "So how do you know how to rate them?"