WEST LAFAYETTE – It is disconcerting for college basketball coaches in this state just to have to play Xavier. However, it has to be even more troubling to have to devise strategies against the Musketeers (which mostly have not worked of late) knowing that the Cincinnati-based program has a number of Indiana kids contributing significantly to their demise.
Xavier has played a pair of Indiana schools this season (Butler and Purdue) and beaten both, which isn't anything new. The Musketeers have done so utilizing Hoosier State natives, which is also nothing surprising or new.
“We just try to establish relationships with kids and their coaches early,” Musketeer coach Chris Mack said. “I wouldn't say that we just come in and get (players).”
The Musketeers dabbled in recruiting Indiana back in the 1990s, as players like Mark Poynter, Jeff Massey and Tyson Brit left this state and trekked down to Cincinnati. However, when former Butler player and coach Thad Matta left his alma mater to take the head coaching position with Xavier, the securing of Indiana kids got ramped up.
The Musketeers landed their biggest Indiana star when Matta signed the 2003 Indiana Mr. Basketball, Justin Cage from Pike High School in Indianapolis.
Mack currently starts forwards Justin Martin and Jeff Robinson, who both played at Lawrence North High School in Indianapolis, as well as guard Dee Davis from Bloomington South High School.
“(Assistant coach) Travis Steele on our staff has done an incredible job throughout the years,” Mack said of the Butler graduate and Danville native. “There is an assembly line of kids that come out of the state of Indiana. The high school basketball here is like no other.”
Winning a lot of games hasn't hurt Xavier's cause either.
“We've lost our share of (recruiting) battles too,” Mack said.
Maybe in recruiting, but not many on the actual court.
The Musketeers are one of just four programs that have advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament in four of the past five seasons (Kansas, Michigan State, and North Carolina being the others).
Xavier has won eight consecutive games against Indiana programs, including three straight against Butler and now a pair of games against Purdue. In their last eight games against Big Ten competition, the Musketeers have won seven of those games, including six straight.
Despite his program's gaudy success, Mack said recruiting this state has begun to get more difficult for not just his program, but other out-of-state programs. That will now be compounded with Butler joining the more prestigious league, the Atlantic 10, of which Xavier competes.
“It's already gotten a lot more difficult over the last couple of years,” Mack said. “With Indiana's resurgence, Purdue and coach (Matt) Painter really do an incredible job of recruiting in their bread basket.”
Mack mentioned Purdue senior wing D.J. Byrd as a kid that he “recruited really hard,” yet lost out on. With a number of in-state programs having increased success, Xavier faces a tougher task, but it isn't going to relent on scouting this state anytime soon.
“We have established relationships,” Mack explained. “We're going to continue to try to get kids that we feel like are a great fit for Xavier.”