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Season In Review: Part One

It was another successful year
The season review is almost a necessity for any outlet that covers a sports team. In one article, or a series, the blog or paper can attempt to parse the events of an entire season so that what seemed chaotic at the time has a coherent flow. Unfortunately, that's not how a basketball season goes. Basketball is, by it's nature, a constantly evolving process. A basketball season often takes on that same form. In order to help with the breakdown of all of that, our season review will come in two parts.

When I previewed the A10 on January 9th, XU was 8-5 and had just been summarily thrashed by crosstown rivals UC. While my prediction of 13-3 in conference proved to be wrong, the Musketeers bounced back and proved to be a contender again this year. Today, we'll look at the season in whole, tomorrow we'll pass out player awards and hit some of the highs and lows.
Injuries cripple depth

The release of someone who knows how to shoot
The season didn't start well for the Musketeers. Before the first ball was tossed, defense stretching shooter Brad Redford was down with a season ending ACL tear, Jamel McLean had fractured a bone in his face, and Justin Martin was declared ineligible by the NCAA. With Andrew Taylor also a bit slowed by injuries, the Musketeers were suddenly one of the least deep teams in the nation, with the bench playing an appallingly low 14% of the minutes this year, good for 345th. That, coupled with a very tough early season schedule (ODU, Butler, Cincinnati, Gonzaga, Wofford, and Florida all made the tournament) put Xavier in a hole that it would take some serious digging to escape.

Showing character early

The Musketeers didn't let themselves wallow in self-doubt early though. With Coach Mack saying all the right things, Jamel McLean returning far ahead of schedule, and Tu Holloway very evidently hating to lose, things looked ok. A very game Wofford squad took Xavier to the limit in triple overtime but Mark Lyons seemed ready to make the jump and buried them late. It was evident that this Xavier wasn't as talented as other iterations, but they were clearly tough and scrappy. They were also on the edge of the precipice.

Reality sets in

Joel and I spoke after the Wofford game and both of us were excited about the steps it seemed like the team was making. The lone loss to that point was against an excellent ODU team that played smothering zone defense. Unfortunately, it seemed tape of the Monarchs win began to circulate. Miami stymied X next by inviting the guards to fire away to the tune of 2-11 from deep and attacking the ball in the post. X squeaked by a Butler squad also mired in it's worst run of the season, barely beat a terrible Wake Forest team and then came apart on the road at Gonzaga. Tu Holloway poured in 26, but a 4-22 from deep revealed that this Xavier team was in deep trouble. Dante kept shooting, and missing, and another 6-20 from deep saw the home win streak evaporate at the hands of Florida. Improbably though, things were about to get a lot worse.

The Shootout

The Crosstown Shootout this year was anything but. Xavier was playing poorly coming in and went ahead and just kept doing that. UC was undefeated but hadn't played anyone decent to that point. After the steamrolling that took place on Januaray 6th, UC was still unbeaten and still hadn't played anyone decent. The season, started with such promise at 5-1, was in tatters. 8-5 and looking nothing like the team that had started last year with the same record but ended up in the Sweet 16, the Musketeers trudged back across town with a long season looming.

The Response

Looks crazy; saved the season
What happened next is something a lot of us will probably not forget any time soon. Coach Mack held a very long practice the next day and got his team ready for the A10 slate that tipped just three days later with URI. To say his team responded would be something of an understatement. Xavier demolished URI 72-45 and suddenly things were looking up. Hated rival Dayton went under the wheels a week later and, seemingly before the A10 season had settled in, X added a win title contender Temple.The run had started, but consolidating the gains would be key to the second half of the year.