In a roller coaster start to the 2012-13 season, Xavier went from 6-1, to 7-6, to winning their first for games in conference play. With 12 games to play it seemed like the team had righted the ship and regained some of the early season momentum. Wins over Temple and La Salle stood them in good enough stead that an at large bid to the NCAAs was again a possibility if the team closed well.
6. The Swoon, Redux
Xavier came off the La Salle win with a chance to grab a road win over a decent Charlotte team and put a little more space between themselves and the rest of the conference. The 49ers were hanging near the top, but weren't figuring to be a real contender all year long. Instead, Xavier, with the help of some truly terrible officiating, played a complete disaster of a game. Semaj Christon and Travis Taylor combined to go 17-32 from the field and score 36 points. The rest of the team combined to go 8-36 and score 21 points. With that, the perfect conference season was over.
Next came a trip to the despicable St. Joe's and yet another dispiriting loss. Xavier somehow managed to score four points in the last eight minutes and blew a chance to get back in the game let when Dee Davis set up out of bounds on a play scripted to get him a shot. Thankfully, the tide briefly turned in the Jimmy Carter Classic. Two years ago I might have said that beating Dayton was better than beating UC. The brawl and St. Mich changed that, but it was certainly nice to briefly snap out of the funk to beat the team from the most depressing city in the state.
Xavier grabbed no momentum from that win, though, and went 2-2 over the next four. Losses to Richmond and Dayton bookended weak wins over Duquesne and Fordham, two teams that Xavier can't count on being there when they need to get right next year. Aggravatingly, the Richmond game at the very least should have been a win. The Musketeers instead shot 20-31 from the line and failed plan correctly for the Spiders exterior offense. An ugly win over URI beat no win at all and only served to emphasize the fact that, for all Semaj's flash and obvious talent, Travis Taylor was the most important player on the Musketeers.
7. One Last Chance
That left Xavier at 8-4 in conference with an absolutely murderous close to the slate in front of them. VCU, Memphis, UMass, Saint Louis, and then Butler loomed to close the season. Optimists, and some media members, insisted that Xavier could still sneak an at large bid with a good showing in that stretch. It was with just a bit of hope then, that Xavier fans packed the Cintas to see the first (and, as it turns out, only) Atlantic 10 showdown between Xavier and VCU.
The undersold fact on VCU is that when opponents get them in the half court or keep them from quick buckets, they aren't very good. Xavier took advantage of both of those things to jump on the Rams quickly. Without the transition buckets they need and stuck in the half court defense they don't play very well, VCU looked very average for exactly 21 minutes. Then, the Musketeers wheels fell off. VCU stormed back from down 17 and won by four in front of an utterly shocked crowd. Dee Davis went down injured, Semaj Christon wilted horribly under pressure, and that was that.
Of course, Xavier followed that up by beating Memphis. The Musketeers played a great first half, tried their very best to fold, and somehow still hung on for the win. The win was nice, but it was also completely meaningless. Xavier was now playing for the automatic bid, and everyone but the willfully ignorant knew it. But, this is still the 2012-13 Musketeers, so that meaningless win was followed up by a loss to UMass in a game that actually mattered. Xavier needed a bye in the conference tournament, and beating the Minutemen would have helped that cause greatly. Instead, Xavier again turtled up in a big game and took another heartbreaking loss.
The wild ride didn't end there. The next team Xavier faced was Saint Louis, possessed of lesser hype than VCU, but probably a better defense. Not only did Xavier win, they did it by summoning probably their best effort of the season, beating Saint Louis on the glass and winning chance after chance for loose balls. A dominating 18-7 run in overtime gave the crowd a great chance to send off the seniors and one final reason to cheer this year. In a season full of disappointment, inconsistency, and confusing results, this was a great win.
And it was followed by another loss. The game at Butler was so rough that it looked more like something you see just before a fight at the YMCA. Xavier battled, but the seniors in particular seemed to have left it all on the floor against Saint Louis. That loss left Xavier facing the uphill battle of four wins in four days to make the NCAA tournament. There was no run left in the tank this time though, Xavier lost to St. Joe's in the first round when an Isaiah Philmore layup attempt caught back iron and bounced out. That suddenly, and in a pile of bodies under the basket, it was all over. There would be no more basketball for Xavier this season.