Chris Mack's Wikipedia page reads that he's a cumulative 111-57 as the head coach of the Xavier Musketeers. His squads have made the tournament now four of his five seasons as head coach. He's transitioned Xavier from the Atlantic 10 to the Big East, and currently, he has Xavier's highest-ranked recruiting class, per GoXavier.com, set to unpack their bags on Victory Parkway next summer.
But after Xavier's rapid dismissal from the NCAA tournament's play-in game, some fans want to talk Mack. And while I'm not here to necessarily agree, I do consider their criticism both warranted and justified.
The Xavier community is a tight-knit group of people that shares a common love for basketball. While it may be small, it's very active, provided you know where to seek it. You won't catch much Xavier fodder on Cincinnati.com or any of Cincinnati's main sports blogs—to find the Xavier community, you'll need to turn to MusketeerMadness.com, or BannersontheParkway.com, or another site created specifically for Xavier hoops talk.
Mack isn't on the hot seat, but the Xavier community seems torn on whether he should be. A lot of criticism is rapidly dismissed, with critics being labeled as negative or just whiny. Xavier is known for being a passionate basketball school, and there's a high degree of loyalty by fans to coaches.
And why not? Mack is a local guy, even went to my high school. His wife played at Dayton. Mack played at Xavier. All the connections are in place to accept Mack as our own.
But while I'm not ready to send Mack packing, I'm ready to entertain the discussion after Xavier's most recent disappointing end to another season. To be clear: Mack shouldn't be evaluated based on just one year; rather, a holistic approach to his overall body of work needs to be considered.
Frankly, there have been too many reoccurring issues over the last few years to just ignore. Xavier's road woes, fragile recruiting classes, a lack of poise and player regressions have become pretty normal on Victory of late.
Since 2009 when Mack was handed the keys to the Ferrari by Sean Miller, Xavier is a collective 42-46 on the road or on a neutral court. That's not so bad considering how difficult it is to win on the road. But three of Mack's first five years were loaded with Miller recruits.
Jordan Crawford, Tu Holloway, Mark Lyons, Kenny Frease—those were all Miller guys. And to Mack's credit, he was able to make the most out of all that talent, reaching two Sweet 16s in the middle of three consecutive tournament appearances under his watch.
Post Miller's guys, since 2012, Xavier is 11-20 on the road or on a neutral floor. Early-season tournaments have been disastrous. This season, Xavier recorded five wins away from Cintas.
To be fair, the 2012-13 season was absolute chaos for Mack as Xavier dismissed Dez Wells, 4-star on Rivals.com, for reasons so absurd that his lawsuit against the school is still very alive as he continues his career at Maryland. Lyons left to re-join Miller at Arizona. Prolific seniors Holloway and Frease both graduated, leaving Xavier starting from scratch. To compound the mess, recruits Jalen Reynolds and Myles Davis were both ruled ineligible for the 2012 season.
But why was Xavier in this situation? Anyone can empathize with Mack, but can one make the case that he was in this position of talent futility because of his fragile recruiting classes? The answer, provided we're being objective, is yes.
I found a great article on Banners on the Parkway, written in October of 2012, detailing the massive hole Xavier was sinking into as recruits started to flake. Do any of these names sound familiar?
Jay Canty? Jordan Latham? Griffin McKenzie? Michael Chandler? D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera? You should know him by now Xavier fans, he dropped 27 points on Xavier in two games against them last season.
Sim Bhullar? Chris Thomas? All gone with the wind. And only a fraction of the guys I listed actually made it to Cintas in uniform. But despite overwhelming class attrition, Mack has managed to incorporate other recruits like Justin Martin, Semaj Christon and Dee Davis into full-time contributors. The transfers he's solicited in Matt Stainbrook and Isaiah Philmore were both exceptional additions.
But what about the others? And are guys getting better under Mack's watch?
Just this season, we witnessed painful regressions of two other high-ranked recruits in James Farr and Myles Davis. Farr looked to be a hidden gem and most improved player until he got to Big East competition and resumed his role from 2012 of keeping chairs warm.
Reynolds was recruited as a work in progress, per Scout.com, possessing a ton of potential. We saw glimpses of it last season, but Reynolds was MIA in the team's most important games. What bothers me about the progression of Davis and Reynolds is that both sat out last year. They weren't allowed to practice with the team, but they had another year to mature and hone their game, so they weren't true freshmen.
Their progress is definitely debatable.
When you watch this Xavier team of late, you almost start questioning the effort and composure, questions we didn't ask in the last decade. And that didn't start this year. Effort and composure were being discussed in 2011 when Xavier was promptly bounced by Marquette in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Xavier's most recent calamity against North Carolina State shouldn't be the deciding factor in anyone's opinion of Mack—take a holistic view and see what he's managed to accomplish over his entire body of work. But as of right now, not even the staunchest opposition of coach criticism can deny that the discussion is at least merited, unless they're just not being honest.
Xavier basketball is a business like any other business. Any business turning a profit has performance reviews, quarterlies, etc. It's how we ensure we're moving in the right direction. It's how we monitor progress.
And ever since Miller's recruits graduated or left, Xavier has been stuck in a nasty realm of mediocrity. Though judgment is best reserved for after next season, when Mack's highest-rated class combines with hopefully an older, wiser, more experienced team, I think we're officially past the stage when coach criticism is more about emotions than it is objectivity.
If poor circumstances are more to blame for Xavier's woes than Mack is, 2014-15 should quiet critics. But the circumstances, provided no Christon NBA exodus occurs, look mighty promising. Kind of like they did this year.
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