So much has been made about the Xavier Musketeers overcoming adversity to reach the Sweet 16, but Sean Miller thinks not enough attention is being paid to how Xavier was actually able to get there — by rebounding.
“Xavier is a great rebounding team, because of such change and the injuries and all the different things they've had to deal with, I think that's lost sometimes,” the Arizona Wildcats head coach said. “They rebound toe to toe on defense and on offense with any team that we've played. As a matter of fact, they might be one of the best overall rebounding teams that we've played.”
Xavier is 29th in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage (34.9) and 28th in defensive rebounding percentage (25.0).
While it isn’t the best rebounding team Arizona has faced this season — Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga have higher total rebounding percentages — the Musketeers are the third-best rebounding team Arizona has faced this season and better on the glass than every Pac-12 team the Wildcats squared off against.
Xavier, the eighth-tallest team in the nation on average, outrebounded both Maryland and Florida State in its first two NCAA Tournament victories.
Of course, Arizona has had trouble controlling the glass at times this season. The Wildcats lost to the UCLA Bruins at home in February because they allowed 19 second-chance points.
“We're going to have to be able to answer the bell in that one area,” Miller said of Thursday’s game.
Xavier still a special place for Miller
Miller insists that the storyline of him facing his former employer, Xavier, and long-time friend, Chris Mack, on Thursday should be second stage to the actual game, but that doesn’t mean he was hesitant to share his thoughts on Xavier and the direction of its basketball program.
“I watch Xavier every chance that I can,” he said. “A big, big fan. Love that place. The friendships that my family and I have, we still have today. I don't get back to that area very often, only because it's not easy to being that we now live in Arizona.”
Miller, who was the head coach at Xavier from 2004-09, lauded Chris Mack, his successor, for leading the Musketeers to four Sweet 16s in the last eight years.
“There aren't many coaches that can say that,” Miller said. “And our players ... they know that Xavier has been to 11 of the last 12 NCAA Tournaments. They know that a year ago Xavier was a No. 2 seed; that right now they're closer to being in, like, three or four Sweet 16s in a row than they are any other way.
“What [Xavier] just did, they dismantled their bracket. It wasn't a close game at all -- in the last game against Florida State, and Florida State has one of the more talented teams in this tournament. So it's so much about in March being at your best than how you've been all year.”
Miller believes Xavier is playing its basketball right now, despite being without starting point guard Edmond Sumner.
“I've watched them reinvent themselves by changing defenses, playing more zone,” he said. “[J.P] Macura and [Trevon] Bluiett, I think, are two just outstanding players. But Chris Mack is one of our game's bright coaches, great coaches. He's not my former assistant. He stands on his own two feet and his record and what he's done speaks for itself.
“And I don't know if I've seen a coach take a team that had lost a number in a row and lost such a terrific player, and now flip it and have them playing at such a high level. We're playing against one of the hottest teams that's remaining in the tournament. And if last weekend is any indication of where they're at, it's scary for anybody that's going to play against them.”
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