On Sunday, Xavier got destroyed 64-42 by Oral Roberts University. The reasons for that during the game have been discussed at length, but it mostly boiled down to the suspensions of Tu Holloway, Mark Lyons, and Dezmine Wells. With the entire backcourt missing, Xavier had no real chance against the Golden Eagles. The undefeated season, top 10 ranking, and kenpom rating all disintegrated in a flash.
Watching and listening to the game, I couldn't help but wonder if it was worth it. Does suspending three of the best players on the team for a fight serve the intended purpose? Was it an effective way to manage the roster during the season? Will it pay any sort of dividends in the long run? There are really only two ways to look at it.
Not Worth It: Xavier isn't a team that is always in the top 10 of the national polls. Yes, they have begun to shake the mid-major label, but even their recent Elite Eight and Sweet Sixteen success hasn't given them the cachet of Duke, Kansas, Ohio St, Florida, or the other consistently winning programs. For whatever reason, the Musketeers are still seen as an overachieving band from southern Ohio.
That was changing this year. Coming into the Crosstown Shootout, Xavier held it's second highest rank of all time and had just demolished nationally recognized programs in Purdue and Vanderbilt despite falling behind. The tenacity that XU had shown in coming back against those two teams was on display the entire game against Cincinnati, itself ranked only two spots behind Xavier to start the year. A 23 point demolition of the Bearcats had Xavier poised to ride the wave into the top five with a successful following week.
Unfortunately, there was no successful following week. When Xavier shortsightedly benched its three best players for a game against easily beatable Oral Roberts, they lost all momentum. Down to 14th now, Xavier only sent the message that appeasing the unwashed masses was worth more than playing winning basketball. The fight was an ugly scene, but in two weeks it would have been old news anyway. By overreacting, the Musketeers cost themselves a shot at something special.
Worth It: Yes, the Musketeers were highly ranked, and yes, they would have hammered ORU with the three suspended players (sorry, Landen Amos), but that isn't the point. The Crosstown Shootout is a nationally recognized game in which Xavier has always been the good guys. Since the days of Bob Huggins snubbing Pete Gillen and UC recruiting at correctional facilities, the Bearcats have been seen as a team of thugs, one step from the streets.
Xavier, however, has never been anything but spotless in reputation. Dedrick Finn and Lloyd Price didn't run afoul of the law until after they left, and neither of those stories was even a blip on the national radar screen. Coaches Mack and Miller compiled this team under the idea of "recruiting character" to go with transcendent talent. That would have gone down the drain had the program not taken some sort of stance on the brawl in last Saturday's game. Fighting just cannot be allowed in any circumstance.
Simply put, ignoring the part that Tu Holloway, Mark Lyons, and Dez Wells played in the fight would have been a public relations nightmare. With the despicable Mick Cronin bloviating and Yancy Gates crying, UC somehow committed the worst of the infractions and came out looking good. If Xavier hadn't responded with something, they would have been pariah, ridiculed on every show on ESPN and blog on the internet. That could not be allowed to happen for the program to move forward. The top five will come in time, a two month delay won't hurt.