Our Season in Review will be running over the course of the next week. Stay here for a look at all the news surrounding Xavier basketball this year, the breakdown of the season, a review of our predictions, and a look ahead to next year.
In part one of the season in review, we recapped Xavier's red hot start and subsequent disaster in the Bahamas. After that stretch, Xavier was 5-3 and suddenly not looking anything like an NCAA tournament team. There were a couple of cupcakes on the schedule after the flight back, but the Musketeers habit of tough non-conference scheduling and the Crosstown Shootout were there to ensure that the break wouldn't last for long.
1. A slow recovery
The signs that all would be well for the Musketeers were not quick in coming. The first game after the Bahamas implosion was a home date over a week later with the Falcons of Bowling Green. Instead of easing to a win and rebuilding some shattered psyches, Xavier blew an 11 point with 5:49 to play and ended up need overtime to win the game. Myles Davis, who went for 14/4/1, and Semaj Christon put them game away in that overtime period. James Farr had 15/9/1 in what would prove to be his best game of the year.
Bowling Green did not go easily, but sure the Purple Aces of Evansville could be counted on to be more obliging. Instead, Xavier contrived to go down 13 to a team (that was wearing orange, for some reason) that ended up 211th in the KenPom ratings. The Musketeers rallied late behind Justin Martin and Semaj, again, for the win, but the two run in games to the Crosstown Shootout did little to give any hope the Musketeers wouldn't be blown out.
It's worth noting in those two games that both Myles Davis and James Farr were playing large parts in the rotation. After Evansville, Davis was shooting 46.2% from behind the arc. Farr was well on his way to supplanting Isaiah Philmore in the rotation in the post. While they both played well in spurts for the rest of December, they also both had nearly vanished as effective players by the end of the season.
Related reading: There really isn't any, spirits weren't high at this point.
2. An unexpected rally
Joel said in the Crosstown Shootout preview that "if X wants to be taken seriously come March, they need to play like they mean it on this particular December Saturday." The fact that the selection committee made a hideous mistake with Xavier (and plenty other teams) seeding didn't have much to do with this game. Down the Drive, the Bearcats SBN site, primed the pump further by continuing to pass off garbage writing as analysis ("If Vanilla Ice and Chewbacca had a kid, it'd be Matt Stainbrook (#40), the 6'10" ogre wearing blue and silver.") It didn't matter to anyone that Xavier had looked horrid for the last three weeks, this game still got the blood flowing.
It must have for the team as well, because Xavier came out and wiped the floor with their hated rival. The "Who's Kilpatrick?" chants were loud and clear as the game began, and the Musketeers responded to their fervent crowd. Rumor has it the game was played at a neutral site, but any Bearcat fans in attendance were conspicuous only in their silence as their team went down by 21 in the first half. There was no run forthcoming from the second best team in the city, and they accepted their ignominious fate without much fight. "Let me know when Dayton is back on the schedule, because this rivalry game was just another Big East tuneup this year." [ed. note: all the Shootout coverage will be linked at the end of the article.]
After the Crosstown Blowout came a trip to Alabama to take on the 58th in the KenPom Crimson Tide. It promised to be a massive game, and it was. Alabama under Anthony Grant plays suffocating defense, and they very nearly choked Xavier right out of the game. Instead, the Musketeers somehow scored 51 in the second half, erased a 12 point deficit, and thundered into the lead behind a three point barrage from James Farr, as well as some great play from Matt Stainbrook and Dee Davis. Dead and buried three weeks earlier, Xavier was suddenly rolling with back to back wins over quality opponents.
Xavier dispatched Wake Forest in the Skip Prosser Classic without too much trouble a week later. Now 10-3 heading into Big East play, the Musketeers were once again on a roll. Conference play no longer meant a stream of Fordham, Rhode Island, and Duquesne level opponents though. Xavier was stepping up the big time now, and St. John's in the Madison Square Garden waited as a welcome to the Big East.
Related reading: Crosstown coverage- Boxscore Breakdown, Conversation, Final Thoughts, Bringing the Shootout home. Other coverage- Stainbrook as a glue guy, Defense and Christmas Eve, Christmas Shopping for the Musketeers.