Xavier is still alive after sneaking into the NCAA Tournament as a No. 11 seed. Guard Malcolm Bernard spoke with Campus Insiders ahead of the Musketeers’ Sweet 16 showdown with No. 2 Arizona.
Xavier’s 95-84 home loss to Marquette on March 1 marked the Musketeers’ fifth consecutive defeat and dropped them to 18-12 overall. Their NCAA Tournament hopes were fading, and Malcolm Bernard wasn’t happy.
The senior guard transferred to Xavier from Florida A&M specifically to experience March Madness, but the mounting losses made any prospect of fulfilling his dream look more and more bleak.
“We’re not even showing that we want to be in the NCAA Tournament right now,” Bernard said after that Marquette game. “We’ve got to get it done or we’re going to be sitting home on the couch watching the NCAA Tournament.”
What a difference a few weeks can make.
Xavier is the last double-digit seed remaining in the NCAA Tournament after disposing of No. 6 seed Maryland 76-65 in the first round and dominating third-seed Florida State 91-66 to advance to its third Sweet 16 in five years.
The Musketeers have won five of six games since Bernard’s comments, and he’s noticed major changes in the team’s chemistry throughout the month.
“I think our want and desire to be better as a team has definitely been upped by a hundred percent,” Bernard told Campus Insiders. “When you battle adversity, it either brings you closer or it separates you. For us, it brought us closer, made us believe in each other more, and it made us want to win and want to be successful.”
As a No. 11 seed, Xavier was one of the final teams invited to the Tournament, and it has made the most of the opportunity. The Musketeers shot 50 percent against Maryland and 55.6 percent against FSU, draining 11 of 17 from 3-point range in their second-round win. Prior to that game, they hadn’t shot at least 50 percent since Feb. 4.
Trevon Bluiett has been on fire, totaling 50 points while draining 8 of 15 from beyond the arc in Tournament. Bernard picks his spots offensively and has scored six points in each contest while hitting 4 of 7 from the floor.
It’s mostly his defense that will help Xavier defeat No. 2 seed Arizona and Sean Miller, who coached the Musketeers from 2004-09 before heading to the Wildcats and leaving the job to friend and former assistant Chris Mack. Miller beat his former team in the Sweet 16 two years ago.
Arizona is loaded with talent, including 7-foot sharpshooter Lauri Markkanen and 6-foot-5 slasher Allonzo Trier, who is averaging 17.1 points per game.
“They’re a bigger team, maybe like FSU sort of,” Bernard said. “All in all, it’s about who wants it more. Who’s going to fight for every loose ball, who’s going to execute and get better shots.”
Xavier had done that against a pair of higher-seeded teams so far, and Bernard doesn’t see why the Musketeers can’t do it again. They’ve been doubted to this point – especially against Florida State – so why not prove everyone wrong again?
“We won convincingly. We showed everyone what we’re made of,” Bernard said. “We’re going to give you everything we have. If you can handle it, it’s going to be a close game. If you can’t, it’s going to be a rough night for you.”