Our Season in Review will be running over the course of the next week. Stay here for a look at all the tumult surrounding Xavier basketball this year, the breakdown of the season, a review of our predictions, and a look ahead to next year.
The college basketball season ended tonight. Louisville outplayed a game Michigan squad to confirm what most of us already thought: the Cardinals were the best team in the nation. As Luther Vandross took us away, we moved on to the 2013-14 season and 2012-13 faded back into the memories of decades of other seasons both very much like it and not at all comparable. Here, though, the end of the season just occasions a chance to look back and see what happened, what went right, and where it all went wrong.
Now all the talk is Big East, but before the season started, the Atlantic 10 was in turmoil. Rumors swirled about VCU, Butler, Old Dominion, George Mason, and a handful of other names joining the league. Charlotte and Temple were leaving, and it seemed like the perfect time to add some pieces to bump the profile of the A10 up just that little bit more. Eventually Butler and VCU joined the conference and immediately slotted in near the top. Xavier fans everywhere were elated by those off the court developments, but some others were hardly as exciting.
Xavier's basketball season this year technically started with a demolition of Fairleigh Dickinson University, but the Musketeers made news far before that game. As the previous season had ended, things had already started to go slightly pear shaped down on Victory Parkway. Mark Lyons, in position to return as leading scorer and finally step out of Tu Holloway's shadow, transferred to Arizona to rejoin Coach Sean Miller. That piece of news wasn't exactly surprising, but what came next surely was.
"For a freshman, Dezmine Wells had a massive season. Xavier fans can only hope that he is putting in the time to get even better." I wrote that on July 25th of Dez Wells, Xavier's returning star. Wells was in position to be a superstar the likes of which Xavier probably hadn't seen since David West. Athletic, talented, engaging, and a ball of focused energy, Wells appeared to be everything a coach and team could ask for. Less than a month later, he was gone. Dez was expelled after a classic case of "he said-she said" turned into an attempt at criminal charges. Xavier's administration, running scared after a press conference you may remember, railroaded the young man in a set of circumstances so shocking even Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters felt compelled to comment. All the outrage in the world didn't matter though, and the Musketeers were suddenly without their two best returning players.
Rather than better, the news just kept getting worse. Myles Davis was denied eligibility in a decision so arbitrary and nonsensical that it may make the NCAA hall of fame. Less than a week later, Jalen Reynolds joined him on the ineligible list, leaving Xavier with a grand total of eight scholarship players as the season closed in.
Xavier fans entered the first game feeling understandably nervous. Freshman guard Semaj Christon had suffered an elbow injury than an infection from a practice collision, so Xavier was down yet another player with FDU coming to town. To make matters worse, the Knights started the game on fire and took a 15-14 lead over a Musketeers team that looked genuinely confused. Thankfully, it didn't last. Xavier piled up 68 first half points (a mark they didn't reach in 20 games this year) en route to scoring 117 and blasting their early season cupcake. Dee Davis looked quick and capable, Brad Redford was healthy again, Travis Taylor was a new man, even Jeff Robinson looked competent.
After FDU came a non-conference clash with new conference opponent Butler. With all the hype surrounding the Bulldogs, just like always, the Musketeers were instead the team that rolled to a 15 point win. All of the sudden, things were changing. Bad teams don't beat Butler by 15, right? In the next two weeks, Butler went on to beat UNC and Marquette. While that obviously didn't mean Xavier could have done that, it spoke well to the quality of the win. A struggle against Robert Morris and a surprising loss to Pacific took a bit of the shine off things, but a gutted team was still sitting at 3-1.
An things actually got better from there. Semaj scored 23 in a win over CAA favorites Drexel, then went for 16/6/7 against Drake. After returning from the Thanksgiving trip, Xavier went into Purdue and came away with a tough road win. The Musketeers were 6-1, receiving votes in the polls, and looked like a vastly different team than had been advertised. Maybe this whole shock the world thing could actually happen. But just as hope appeared, it vanished again.