I remember last season at this time (as should everyone who has not had a recent TBI). Xavier was still righting itself from an almost perfunctory poor performance over the Thanksgiving holiday. It wasn't clear at all that Dee Davis would ever make another three or that Matt Stainbrook was better at basketball than he was at undermining the cab drivers' union.
It has all gone dim in the relative light of yet another run to the Sweet 16, but there were points in December and indeed later at which we were concerned that X might not be a tournament team.
Most troublingly to me, I was worried that we might be softer than whipped butter. Dee's toughness was limited by his frame. Trevon still had a high school body. Matt Stainbrook... well, God bless him for trying hard, but when the thing that most gets your hackles up is having your goggles knocked off, there's a limit to how intimidating you can be.
At this point last year, we were still a few weeks away from Myles Davis getting behind a mic and calling the team's toughness into question. We were still two months from Dee putting the team on his wiry shoulders for 40 magical minutes. We looked like the kind of team that loses to Butler on 50/50 balls.
Something clicked down the stretch last year, and it has carried into this season. Trevon has come in looking like he spent the summer as far away from the dinner table as possible. James Farr and Jalen Reynolds are combining to lock down the paint and the glass at both ends of the floor. Myles Davis and that weird thing on his face combine to be a vocal leader who wants the big shot. The team falls in behind his leadership.
For years, Xavier has been the kind of team that wrings the most out of its talent. This year's team is back to being that kind of crew. Opponents come in to a Xavier game knowing they're going to have to fight for everything they get. That kind of toughness makes all the difference in a Shootout, and Xavier has it in spades.