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One Last Shot

Yesterday, Brad and I battled to a heated rhetorical stalemate in regards to the value of the NIT in our award-winning Sunday Conversation. Before it comes to that, though, the Musketeers have one more chance to get into the NCAA tournament.

Can a healthy Dee Davis be the difference against VCU? Will he even get a shot at it?
Can a healthy Dee Davis be the difference against VCU? Will he even get a shot at it?

In peace there's nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger;
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favour'd rage...
-King Henry V, Act 3, Scene 1

It's not any secret that Xavier's season is on the line this weekend in Brooklyn. It's also not opaque to anyone how a team that has gone to four of the last five Sweet 16s finds itself needing a minor miracle - in athletic terms - just to find its way into the NCAA tournament field this year. Graduation took a larger than normal toll on the roster from last season, and then the summer was one body blow after another as the staggered team lost Mark Lyons, Dez Wells, Myles Davis, and Jalen Reynolds from its list of expected contributors coming into the campaign.

Throughout the year, Xavier has looked like what they are: a talented but inexperienced and shallow team fighting to stay afloat under the weight of a taxing non-conference schedule an incredibly deep Atlantic Ten. There have been moments where you could almost see the beginnings of something brilliant and unlikely happening; there have also been stretches that made you wonder if this team would ever hold another lead, let alone grab another win.

That's all in the rearview now. Xavier is staring down the barrel of a four-game, four-day stretch in the conference tournament that could include Temple, Virginia Commonwealth, and either Butler or Saint Louis, assuming Xavier clears each successive hurdle as the pressure and fatigue mount.

In October of 1805, the armada of the United Kingdom met up with the naval forces of Napoleon's France at the Battle of Trafalgar. Faced with the most decisive naval engagement of that war, and with the possibility of a French invasion of the British Isles looming if he was defeated, Admiral Horatio Nelson sent a simple message to his fleet: "England expects that every man will do his duty." Everything had been planned and prepared for that day; there was nothing left but to go out there and do it.

Xavier finds itself in the basketball equivalent of that position this week. The hay, by and large, is in the barn. It's time to execute. For players like Travis Taylor and Isaiah Philmore, it means patrolling the glass on both ends of the court and giving Xavier a credible scoring threat in the middle. For Semaj and Dee, it's finding the gaps in the defense and getting the ball to whomever gives the team the best chance to score. For Brad Redford, it's as simple a catch and release. For Jeff Robinson and Justin Martin, it's as ambiguous as figuring out what makes a man tick and then stoking that fire in his belly.

Every time the Muskies step on the court in the A-10 tournament, there's no yesterday and no tomorrow. For 40 minutes, Xavier expects that every man will do his duty. If, over the course of the long weekend, the team can repeatedly and consistently summon the cohesiveness and quality of execution that has shown itself for stretches of play during, they may yet find themselves dancing once again.