Game #9-367: Xavier Musketeers at Charlotte 49ersJanuary 23, 2013 7:30 pm
One of the great old debates on this website has been: "What is a mid-major?" It is also the question Kyle hates the most. But on a website dedicated to mid-major basketball, it ultimately has to be answered. That is why we have what we call the Red Line
. The Red Line has not always existed on this website, and Kyle early on covered games most certainly not mid-major (Game 8 of the 100 Games Project was an ACC regular season game between Boston College and Clemson
). But the Red Line took the unconventional method of determining who is a mid-major and who is not by looking at athletic budget figures. There are many good conferences with low athletic budgets that are considered mid-majors by the Red Line. But as Kyle said, "mid-major does not mean suck". Schools like those in the Atlantic 10 and Missouri Valley deserve praise as they win without high athletic budgets, in part because of less priority on football. Of course, a large part of their winning is because of higher basketball budgets, which the Red Line accounts for somewhat (hence why the MAC and Ivy Leagues are below the Red Line). If you have an overall athletic budget over $20 million and a basketball budget over $2 million, you are not a mid-major. Otherwise you are, with no exemptions because of your success. But until this year, there were a few exemptions. Gonzaga's national media coverage has given them an advantage far above anybody else in the West Coast Conference. Memphis when Conference USA was a mid-major for one year was also exempted, as they were only a couple years removed from nearly having a vacated national title under John Calipari. And then there was that pesky team whose fans kept writing into Kyle saying they should not be covered, and thus got an exemption. That school was Xavier, playing in this game at Charlotte.
The argument from Xavier on why they should not be covered here is that the success of their program makes them a not very mid-major place. Xavier spends $4.7 million on men's basketball alone, a significant fraction of their $14.8 million athletic budget. The Musketeers' basketball budget is far above the threshold for what mid-majors typically spend, but the athletic budget is far below what the big schools above the Red Line spend. Xavier has a state of the art arena that seats over 10,000 that they often fill. The Musketeers have made it to the Sweet 16 five times in the last nine years, and has made the NCAA Tournament 11 times in the last 12 years. And Forbes Magazine has rated Xavier as one of the 20 most valuable college basketball programs in the country!
What is mid-major about that?
On the other side of the mid-major argument, there is the argument that is not bought on here that certain conferences are not mid-majors not because they are good but rather because they are not. This is the low-major argument, and I have even seen some Big South fans (including my fellow High Point fans) argue that we still have a ways to go before we are considered a mid-major. Under this argument, the Big South, Atlantic Sun, Northeast, and SoCon in most years are not mid-majors because they are not good enough. It is the Creightons and the Xaviers who are indeed the true mid-majors. And we do have to be realistic, and note that Xavier has at least as much in common as those above the Red Line as with schools like Charleston Southern and Presbyterian. The challenge of course is trying to define the difference between the "low-majors" and the "true mid-majors". There is little economic difference between the two, especially when Liberty of the Big South is one of the biggest spenders in Hoops Nation. While Xavier and Presbyterian have little in common, Fordham and Winthrop have comparable programs despite it still being the Atlantic 10 against the Big South.
And that is why ultimately Xavier is a mid-major, even if Musketeer fans get angry when we insist on labeling them as such. The Atlantic 10 still generally struggles against teams above the Red Line, and contributes to the mid-majors weak winning percentage of 16% against the big boys. For every big conference game Xavier has against a Butler or VCU, they take a RPI hit by facing a Duquesne or Fordham. The Atlantic 10 still gets disrespect from the national media, as Billy Packer infamously criticized the NCAA for giving an undefeated St. Joseph's team a 1 seed. And even Xavier themselves have struggled in ways true power conference schools do not usually do. Xavier has had success in the past with Pete Gillen, Skip Prosser, and Thad Matta, only to see those coaches leave for ACC or Big Ten schools. Xavier really cannot do anything at this point to grow their basketball program, as they have spent all the resources they have in being able to go as far as they can with basketball. On the other hand, a school with twice the athletic budget of Xavier like Memphis can grow past what Xavier has by re-allocating money from football to basketball. Xavier does not have that option. And now Xavier has begun to struggle a bit more this year, entering this game with an 11-6 record and a loss to Wofford. Xavier has started well in the Atlantic 10, and would need to win games like this one in Charlotte if their NCAA Tournament string is to continue. A powerful mid-major has less margin for error than a Kentucky or North Carolina that can easily rebound from a bad season.
One example of a mid-major that could have once been considered major was the team hosting Xavier this night in Charlotte. It's hard to believe now, but back during Conference USA's glory years the 49ers were in a conference with Cincinnati, Marquette, Louisville, and Memphis. Charlotte on a routine basis got to play some of the top names in college basketball outside of the BCS conferences. The 49ers as I have mentioned before have also had plenty of success on their own, making the NCAA Tournament several times with a Final Four appearance in 1977. But yet Charlotte has had the problems associated with being a mid-major, and that has likely played a role in the weakening of their program since joining the Atlantic 10. Growing up in South Carolina, there was plenty of coverage of the ACC teams up in North Carolina. But I barely heard about Charlotte, despite being located just above the state line. Even fans living in Charlotte complain about the lack of media coverage locally. And then there is the identity crisis of still having "University of North Carolina" in the official school name and trying to establish them from UNC's campus in Chapel Hill. It has been tough for Charlotte in building support when most of the school's 20,000 students live in the area and attend class no differently than one would attend high school. Ultimately what hurt Charlotte in the last conference shuffle was not having football. And as a result, a large number of their fans after the move to the Atlantic 10 demanded American-style football before the school obliged and a UNCC football team will begin play this upcoming Fall. Charlotte is an ex-major still trying to find a way back to being considered an important factor in intercollegiate sports.
But until football comes around (and they will play a very weak schedule of mostly Big South schools their first year), Charlotte still needs the basketball team to get back to its former glory. Charlotte entered 15-3, but coming off a loss to Richmond and needing a big win to still have a shot at the NCAA Tournament. In past years, Xavier was that potential big win. Charlotte fans were always enthusiastic to watch their team play Xavier. But with the Musketeers not as strong, the fanfare building up to this was not as strong as years past. Charlotte was doing a "White Out" with "Beat X" shirts given out to students as has always been done for past Xavier games. But while the students were still pumped up and came out in big numbers for this game, the Charlotte community just could not turn out for a 7:30 PM tip on a Wednesday night and this game was not close to a sellout like years past. But the students did not seem to care that this Charlotte-Xavier game was not as big as before. After all, Charlotte has had its best team in at least five years so far this season.
Charlotte was able to take an 8-6 lead at the first media timeout. But the 49ers otherwise seemed sluggish at getting off to a good start at home in the first half. By the under 8 media timeout of the first half, the 49ers were now trailing 15-9. It was not really a well played game with a combined 24 points early on a combined 42 possessions. Charlotte was still hanging in, and needed somebody to step up and get the team back on track. But the Niners lack a alpha dog, and Alan Major had to utilize multiple players to get the team going again on offense. Willie Clayton and Chris Braswell were the key players down low, who were able to combined be more effective than Musketeer big man Travis Taylor. Charlotte's strength is having better depth in the frontcourt than what you normally see below the Red Line. And that enabled Charlotte to grind it out and finally take a one point lead at halftime when Denzel Ingram made a superhoop with a minute before the half.
The second half started as the teams traded baskets and the game remaining close. Both teams came out looking sharper than they did in the second half. This was the game now that at home Charlotte had to win. Even if the 49ers do not make the NCAA Tournament, a win could help secure a NIT berth which would be big for a team that has struggled in recent years. After Xavier briefly held the lead again early in the half, a layup by Clayton gave Charlotte the lead again with 14 minutes left and big shots by DeMario Mayfield gave UNCC a 10 point lead with eight minutes left. After that, it was mostly a game of trying to hold on. Xavier kept the game reasonably close until the final minute, when Charlotte's lead was enough that desperation fouling was not enough for Xavier. Beating Xavier was not as big as in years past, but it was still great for the home team to get off to a 16-3 and 4-1 conference start. Charlotte held on for the 63-57 win, and would now face bigger challenges ahead.
Charlotte got the win to improve to 16-3. But after this game the 49ers would lose Mayfield to suspension and lose to George Washington, and would be quickly out of the RPI's Top 50. And it appears that Xavier is likely going to need to win the A-10/16 Tournament in Brooklyn to keep their NCAA Tournament streak going even with a good conference record. And that is the struggle we all have below the Red Line. As Kyle recently mentioned, there will be no Red Line next year, and our community will once again have to decide the answer to that dreaded question, "What is a mid-major?" I have calculated the Red Line math for next season that I will fully share sometime later since Kyle will no longer be doing it here. The challenge is that our old thresholds are being challenged as schools continue to increase spending despite the economy, a topic covered here quite a bit before. According to what I have figured, a weakened Conference USA will still remain above the Red Line based on where it is currently at. And a weakened Colonial will somehow come above it, as more schools now spend more than $2 million on basketball. The Atlantic 10 will remain just below the $20 million threshold while increasing basketball spending to an average of $3.5 million, the most of any non-BCS conference (including the Mountain West). So it may be time to change our standards, or start kicking out more schools from Hoops Nation as they chase money. That might be the biggest challenge for us at the start of Season X, and you can be sure schools that straddle the Red Line like Xavier and Charlotte will always be part of that conversation.
at CHARLOTTE 63, XAVIER 57
XAVIER 11-7 (4-1) -- Q. Jones 4-8 2-2 11; S. Christon 8-16 2-4 18; B. Redford 2-3 0-0 5; D. Davis 1-9 0-0 3; T. Taylor 9-16 0-1 18; J. Robinson 0-5 0-0 0; J. Martin 3-8 0-1 7; I. Philmore 0-4 2-2 2; E. Stenger 2-6 0-1 4; L. Amos 0-1 0-0 0; J. Farr 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 25-68 4-9 57.
CHARLOTTE 16-3 (4-1) -- W. Clayton 6-6 2-3 14; P. Henry 1-3 1-2 3; D. Ingram 4-7 2-2 12; D. Mayfield 5-12 1-4 13; D. Clark 2-3 2-7 6; C. Braswell 4-7 3-7 12; E. Nickerson 0-2 2-2 2; T. Williams 0-2 0-0 0; J. Thompson 0-1 0-0 0; I. Benkovic 0-1 1-2 1. Totals 22-44 14-29 63.
Three-point goals: XU 3-12 (B. Redford 1-2; J. Martin 1-5; D. Davis 1-4; S. Christon 0-1), CHAR 5-16 (C. Braswell 1-2; D. Mayfield 2-6; E. Nickerson 0-1; T. Williams 0-1; P. Henry 0-1; I. Benkovic 0-1; D. Ingram 2-4); Rebounds: XU 37 (T. Taylor 11), CHAR 31 (W. Clayton 8); Assists: XU 5 (B. Redford 2), CHAR 13 (P. Henry 4); Total Fouls -- XU 27, CHAR 15; Fouled Out: XU-T. Taylor; CHAR-None.
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