Xavier’s recent three-game losing streak and its slide out of the polls mean zilch to Gonzaga men’s basketball coach Mark Few.
“They’re undefeated when they have their whole team intact,” Few said of the Musketeers (9-3), who entertain Gonzaga (10-2) Saturday night at a sold-out Cintas Center in Cincinnati. “They were probably heading toward the Top 5 if that thing wouldn’t have happened.”
That ‘thing’ was an ugly brawl at the conclusion of Xavier’s 76-53 rout of rival Cincinnati. Four players from each team received suspensions. The Musketeers were without All-American point guard Tu Holloway for one game (a loss to Oral Roberts), preseason All-Atlantic 10 second-team selection Mark Lyons for two games (ORU and a loss to Long Beach State) and starting freshman forward Dezmine Wells for four games (ORU, Long Beach State, a loss to Hawaii and a win over Southern Illinois). Walk-on guard Landen Amos also missed the last four games.
Pre-fight Xavier was 8-0 and ranked No. 8. Without Holloway and Lyons, Xavier lost 64-42 to Oral Roberts. Holloway returned to score 17 points, but the Musketeers fell to Long Beach State 68-58 without Lyons and Wells in their opener at the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu. The guard tandem combined for 44 and 38 points as Xavier surpassed the 80-point mark while splitting its last two games in Hawaii.
“I think you can throw the Hawaii tournament out the window,” Few said.
In its first eight games, Xavier averaged 74 points and allowed 61. In the last four games, the Musketeers averaged 67 points and yielded 73. The roster is complete again, and that includes assistant coach Kareem Richardson, who has returned after surgery for a collapsed lung.
“First of all, it’s awfully great news for Kareem to be able to join us,” Musketeers coach Chris Mack said. “As far as our team, we’re going to be fine. I really like the energy the last couple days in practice.”
Gonzaga defeated Xavier 64-54 last season behind center Robert Sacre’s 22 points and forward Elias Harris’ 13 points and 11 rebounds. In addition to the battle in the paint, the key matchup figures to be GU’s freshmen backcourt of Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. against Holloway and Lyons.
“I want them at full strength,” Sacre said. “I don’t want it to be, ‘Well, if we beat them it was when they were weak.’ That’s not why we play teams. We want to see them with who they are.”