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. Part two of the season in review described Xavier's rebound from that showing and the subsequent demolition of Cincinnati and the increase in momentum heading into the start of the Big East slate. St. John's and Madison Square Garden would be the introduction of the Big East to Xavier, and vice versa.
1. Into uncharted territory
The Big East season kicked off on New Year's Eve of 2013. The fact that Xavier was playing in MSG only added to the holiday feeling of the event. A 13 point run to start the second half propelled the Musketeers to a 1-0 record in the their new conference and also served notice that they had not arrived to be a pushover. The Red Storm led at halftime, but simply weren't good enough to stay with a team led by Justin Martin's 15 points.
After that game, Xavier hosted fellow conference newcomer, Butler. The Bulldogs had a decent enough start to the season to make Andy Katz do a video proclaiming them one of the surprise teams of the year, but to say they faded in conference play hardly encapsulates the manner of their plunge. The immolation began at Xavier, where the game was tied at 64 with just over five minutes to play. In the last 6:13 of the game, Butler scored four points as the Musketeers buried them to continue their absolutely torrid run.
After Butler, who capitulated entirely after that game, came a legitimate Big East contender in Marquette. Semaj took the game over on his way to 28/3/2 and Xavier was sitting at 3-0 in their new conference. The transition may have been somewhat abrupt and unexpected for a program that was a large part of what the Atlantic 10 was hoping to develop, but it had been a successful one. There were 15 games left in the conference season, but the groundwork had been laid.
2. Adjustment period
No one probably expected the Musketeers to steamroll their way through the new conference undefeated, and anyone who did harbor that dream met up with reality in a game in Omaha. Xavier led early, fell behind by as many as 12, and then fought their way back to nearly tie the game in the last minute. Creighton made free throws, but the Musketeers acquitted themselves quite well. Notably, James Farr, Myles Davis, and Brandon Randolph combined for only six points.
Next came one of the best games of the year. Georgetown, a classic Big East team and a conference title contender, swaggered into the Cintas and beat the home team around at will. Leading by 17 with 15 minutes to play, the Hoyas had the game completely locked up and left the Musketeers staring down the barrel of back to back losses for the first time since the Bahamas. "After Georgetown's three threes to open the half, they didn't make another, after a field goal with 6:14 to play, they didn't score again, after opening the game 21-38 from the floor, they finished by going 4-17." Xavier roared back to win by ripping off a 44-14 run to end the game. That is not a typo, Xavier outscored the Hoyas by 30 when it mattered. Myles Davis only scored three, but it those three that opened the floodgates.
That game, if not a subsequent win over a terrible DePaul team, had begun to expose some cracks in the Musketeers though. Xavier was clearly vulnerable to attack from behind the arc and capable of going cold for long stretches themselves. The upcoming opponents must have recognized that, because things tipped downhill soon for the Musketeers.
3. Here we go again
Xavier followed the Georgetown and DePaul wins by dropping three straight. First was Providence at the Dunkin Donuts Center. The Friars went 8-20 from behind the arc, getting good looks pretty much whenever they so desired. "Since conference play started though, the Musketeers have been eighth in the Big East in defense and posted a defensive efficiency number ten points higher than their aggregate season average. In short, Xavier cannot stop anyone right now." That trend wouldn't end any time soon.
Next came one of the losses that ended up with Xavier in the play-in game in Dayton instead of seeded where they should have been. Committees make (glaring, egregious) mistakes all the time, but losing to Seton Hall is not one of them, that's squarely on the team. The Pirates went 8-22 from behind the arc and the Musketeers themselves never got their offense going, despite 37 combine points from Semaj and Stainbrook. Myles Davis was 2-9, James Farr didn't score, and Brandon Randolph was nearing the exciting climax of his disappearing act.
Losing to Villanova isn't really ever a bad loss, but the way Xavier did it certainly made it seem that way. Xavier traveled to Philadelphia and simply got annihilated by a Wildcats team that scored from deep whenever it felt so led. "Uninspired, apathetic, appalling, horrid, unconscionable, dreadful, embarrassing, systemic failure. You can choose your negative descriptor tonight and odds are you'll be right. If this team shows up again on Saturday, it's four losses in a row." The Musketeers allowed Nova to go 11-28 from deep to increase their rep as the worst three point defense in the league. A promising start was on the rocks, and there was a lot that needed to be fixed to recover it.