I took a quick glimpse at UD’s conference slate this week and was a bit relieved. The sun has finally risen for the Sweater Nation™. Saint Louis, VCU, George Washington and UMass all visit the Arena, with the Flyers making a trip to only Saint Louis in return. The cards are stacked heavily in the Flyers’ favor.
KenPom seems to agree, as his prognostication for UD’s conference run is promising:
In short, there isn’t a non-winnable game on the slate.
This epic journey begins this weekend against Saint Louis. Nothing like a nice 11 AM game on a Saturday morning to get things flowing.
Rick Majerus has been dead for just over a year now, which means he is probably down to around 250 pounds these days (that’s my last Majerus fat joke ever, promise). Jim Crews inherited a program which was on solid footing at the time of The Rick’s passing. Without doing a smidge of research, I can emphatically say that Saint Louis is as in good of a shape as it has ever been as a basketballin’ program.
A quick reminder as to why a lot of Sweaters™ hate Jim Crews (and Chris Mack):
[quote_box_center]Nineteen years ago Xavier men’s basketball coach Chris Mack played college hoops for the University of Evansville. And Evansville, on a particular occasion, played Dayto
So begins a story that has followed Mack since February of 1990, on the night he popped a ball in a defender’s face while taking it out of bounds under Dayton’s basket.
That defender was Wes Coffee, and he was twice hit in the face by different Purple Aces within the game’s first 13 minutes.
Only the second hit came from Mack. But it launched a sequence of events that led to a near melee between teams, a contrite Mack, a dazed Coffee, an apology letter, and a reputation – for Mack – as a perpetual villain to some in Dayton.
The incident resurfaced in whispers around the time of Mack’s April 15 introduction as XU’s new coach. After a little digging, it was clear that there’s no love lost for the Evansville-turned-Xavier transfer player in Dayton annals: first because of the Coffee incident, and second for his decades-old allegiance to the archrival Musketeers.
Last week Mack was asked to set the record straight. What happened that night, and why? He was happy to oblige.
The story, Mack said, starts like this: Evansville was playing a heated rivalry game at Dayton, which was known as a pressing team.
“I think our coach, Jim Crews, was bothered by the fact that the guy guarding the in-bounder was always stepping over the line. He’d warn referees and they never seemed to move them back. It’s one of those rules that’s in there but they didn’t really follow it,” Mack said.
“And he had made the point in the shoot-around the day before, that if that kept happening, ‘You just boink the guy in the nose with the ball. I’m tired of this.’ We all sort of chuckled and he said, ‘I’m serious. You’re going to boink him in the nose.’”
(Crews, by the way, was a member of Indiana’s 1976 national championship team, led by Bobby Knight. He spent eight years as Hoosier assistant on Knight’s coaching staff before a successful 17-year run at Evansville.)
The day after the shoot-around, the Purple Aces didn’t play well. They were down by 10 or 12 points, Mack said, when his teammate in-bounded the ball under the Flyers’ hoop.
According to Mack and the Dayton Daily News’ account of the game, Evansville guard Scott Schreffler was nearing the end of the five second count and Coffee, a forward/center, was guarding him.
Schreffler threw the ball into Coffee’s face, the paper said. Coffee was stunned, his lip split. He thought it might have been an accident; he was a 7-footer, and an obstacle to get around.
Ten minutes later, then-sophomore Mack was in Schreffler’s place and needed to in-bound the ball against the Flyers’ press.
“The same guy (Coffee) is on the ball and it’s getting close to a five count, and I looked long and I threw it and hit him right in the nose,” Mack said.
At that point most onlookers thought Mack had thrown the ball twice, a misconception he last week wanted to rectify. He said he only threw it once. Coffee agreed.
Still, many in the arena grew incensed – like Coffee’s teammate, Negele Knight, who took the incident personally, the Dayton Daily News said. Knight ran from the wing of Dayton’s press and chest-bumped Mack.
“That’s all I could do,” Knight told the newspaper. “I knew if I started a fight, I’d get thrown out. So I just bumped him to see if I could get a reaction. He didn’t react.”
Coffee was shocked after Mack hit him with the ball and remained, for a while, angry.
“Chris hit me really, really good, square on nose and mouth, and split my lip even further. That’s when people realized it was intentional, and there was an uproar,” said Coffee, who lives in Alabama and recently recounted the story.
He didn’t retaliate.
“Even if I wanted to swing, I didn’t know what direction to swing because my eyes were watering so much,” Coffee said.
The referee called a technical foul on Mack, the Dayton Daily News said. The teams shoved each other and the atmosphere was charged, but no fighting took place.
Mack was the only Purple Ace who tried to shake hands after the Flyers’ 23-point win, according to the Dayton Daily News story.
He told its reporter he was sorry, and that he was trying to throw the ball over Coffee’s head – but under the bottom of the backboard – to beat the five-second count.
Mack last week said the latter comments were meant to protect his coach. He took the game to heart and said the Coffee incident contributed to his decision to transfer.
Crews, who became Army’s head coach in 2002, on Monday supported Mack’s account of the game. It sure was a long time ago, Crews said, and he didn’t remember the first ball thrown at Coffee, but Mack did what he was told.
“He followed orders,” Crews said.
Crews said he warned his players then that Dayton defenders were going to keep crossing the line, per their coach’s instruction. If officials weren’t going to whistle them for violations, UD’s players would continue the behavior, Crews said.
Coffee said he never crossed he end line and went out of bounds. He didn’t have to, he said, because his “arms and legs were long enough” to defend the pass.
Once he returned to Evansville, the exchange weighed on Mack. He composed an apology to Coffee and slipped it in the mail.
“For him to write the letter … I definitely didn’t expect that. He hoped I would forgive him,” Coffee said. “I thought that was very classy. I never held any ill-will against him.”
The next year Mack transferred to Xavier, where he went on to be a two-time captain. He said he loved Crews as a coach, but “those type of things” led him out of Evansville.
“I felt bad. I want to compete and I want to win but I’m not going to do it that way,” Mack said.
Coffee today wishes only the best for Mack and was congratulatory about his new role at XU. Although Mack has moved on, too, he won’t forget.
“Not only did I learn a lesson as a player but I really learned more of a lesson as a coach, dealing with kids,” Mack said. “It’s about competing and being nasty and tough, but it’s also about shaking their hand and doing it the right way.”
Time doesn’t always sway those who hold grudges. Despite the fact that his wife, Christi, was a Flyer, Mack probably won’t get a warm reception the first time he leads XU at UD Arena.
To that end, two things are certain: The Xavier-Dayton animosity will live on, and Mack – a Musketeer through-and-through – doesn’t expect to make any new Dayton friends. The Coffee incident ensured as much.
“I became the villain at Dayton,” Mack said. “And I’ve got no problem with that.”[/quote_box_center]
Saint Louis is now 14-2 and opened up their A10 campaign with a one-point victory at Rhode Island. Although the fourteen win total indicates success, only one of those victories, a home win against Indiana State, came against a current RPI Top 100 team. The Bills do have two close losses to two top-ten teams however, Wisconsin and Wichita State, so don’t you dare make any false assumptions. Let’s just say that a win against UD would be just as beneficial to SLU as it would be for the Flyers.
Four starters return from last season’s team — a squad that won a school-record 28 games and captured the A10’s regular season and tournament crowns. Obviously the Billikens are known for their fun-sucking defensive approach and nothing has changed as far as that is concerned, as SLU is allowing just 57.8 points per game. Saint Louis defends the arch about as good as anyone in the nation, allowing their opponents to shoot just 26% from three-point land.
Saint Louis continues to hold onto the ball with great care and turn over their opponents with great aplomb. Not known for their offensive prowess, SLU has picked up the slack on that side of the floor this season. Although they continue to be a less than average three-point shooting team, the Bills are scoring just over 70 points a game.
I was a bit surprised to see Saint Louis’ pace ranked in the middle of the conference pack, slightly above UD’s. From Ray Floriani’s latest Tempo Tuesday:
Meet and Greet
The backcourt is once again led by senior guards Mike McCall (8.9 ppg/3.4 rpg) and Jordair Jett (11.8 ppg/4.8 apg). Jordair Jett is bulit like a Puerto Rican woman and is a defensive standout. With Kwamain Mitchell’s graduation, Jett has been tasked with creating more offensive for the Billikens this season. Initial returns? Meh. Jett’s perimeter game will never be threatening, but he does have the ability to get to the basket and the charity-stripe. McCall, who may have peaked as a freshman, is still struggling to find his shot this season.
You’ll recognize the aging Ebony & Ivory frontcourt, seniors Dwayne Evans (14.6 ppg/6.0 rpg) and Rob Loe (9.9 ppg/5.1 rpg). Evans is a legit stud, a 6’5″/230 forward who is tough to handle around the basket. It would be a disservice to simply label him a “garbage man,” but that is essentially what he is (albeit with slightly more skill). Loe is worse than the Holocaust, a 6’11” guy that hides out on the perimeter, currently hitting just 27% of his three-point attempts.
Jake Barnett (4.9 ppg/2.5 rpg) and Austin McBroom (8.6 ppg/42% 3FG) will see significant time as well. Barnett, a likely starter Saturday, is a pick-and-pop small forward. McBroom is the team’s most accurate three-point shooter, a transfer from Central Michigan with good range and quickness.
Big man John Manning was supposed to turn into something decent when he stepped onto campus three years ago — the seven-footer hasn’t developed into anything more than an immovable object that takes up space. Grandy Glaze (5.1 ppg/6.8 rpg), one of the best name’s in conference history, brings his “tough-nosed” approach and limited offensive arsenal to the gym every goddamn night.
A UD win will appease a lot of our concerns. Students aren’t back yet, not that it matters — and UD pulls out a close one, 66-63.
I’ll probably miss the end of this one, so please text me at (646) 845-8945 to keep me updated. I appreciate it.