To have watched Xavier 3 seasons ago struggling in the A10 and ultimately failing to make any postseason appearance, one would be shocked by how far the program has come. It would ludicrous to think that a player who managed less than 2 minutes a game on that squad would be a standby for a contender for a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament. It would still be a bit surprising watching the team from the first Big East season and imagining that some of the seemingly over matched and one dimensional bench pieces would become the pillars of a 24-3 squad.
And yet here we are. Here Xavier is looking down the barrel of a top 5 tilt on their own floor with a shot at making themselves very hard to pass up for a #1 seed by the NCAA Selection committee. Today Xavier waltzed into the Verizon Center, proved that Georgetown couldn't handle them at their best, and walked out knowing that they will be ranked in the top 10, and probably the top 5, when #1 Villanova comes to the Cintas Center this Wednesday. The most shocking thing about going to Georgetown and reasserting their claim as one of the top teams in the nation was that anyone who has followed this Xavier squad was not shocked at all. This is a special team.
Xavier got off to a steady, if not awe inspiring, start today on the offensive end, feeling out the matchups with Georgetown's predominantly man-to-man defensive looks. Soon enough it became that the paint was open to be exploited as the Muskies first 10 points came from down low. Unfortunately, Georgetown was finding it just as simple to get things going under the basket, as they built an early 12-8 lead with only one make from outside the paint themselves. After Isaac Copeland hit a jumper with 12:49 left to make it 14-13, X switched to the 1-3-1 defense that has brought them so much success, although not any against Georgetown, this season. And with that, the tide began to turn.
Xavier would spend the next 6+ minutes going on a 14-2 run with 6 of their points coming off of turnovers. Edmond Sumner and JP Macura were the stars of the show, Sumner using his length and incredible quickness to make every defender Georgetown trotted out on him look like a traffic cone, and Macura using his usual array of savvy and hustle to make himself a formidable obstacle at the top of the 1-3-1. With just under 6 minutes left, Remy Abell, once again aggressive in attacking the basket today, made a layup to keep Xavier's lead at 11, seemingly having put Georgetown at an arm's reach early on.
However, a combination of Xavier switching back to a man defense and Georgetown switching to a 2-3 zone sparked a 15-4 run by the Hoyas, capped by a long three from D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera, who may have been facing a Xavier program he was once going to be a part of for the final time. James Farr was instrumental for Xavier handling the zone that had initially flustered them and was his pair of free throws - part of a 29-31 day from the line for the Muskies - that gave Xavier the 35-33 lead they enjoyed at halftime. The Hoyas had come back off the mat, but time would tell if they had it in them to keep up with Xavier's attack in the second half.
Xavier has occasionally started the second half poorly, most notably in their losses to Villanova and Creighton where they allowed big runs out of the break to allow a team they had spent the end of the first half reeling in to run away with the game once and for all. Today the Musketeers came out of the break all focus and execution and quickly dispatched Georgetown from the game. Gone were the miscues and slow rotations that had kept the Hoyas in the game in the first frame, instead Xavier simply could not miss from anywhere on the court and ripped off a 13-0 run in under 3 and a half minutes to put Georgetown back firmly in the rearview.
The Hoyas would snap the streak with a pair of threes of their own, but Xavier would put up another quick 8-2 run to break their spirits once and for all and put the lead back at double digits, where it would stay for the rest of the afternoon. Too frequently a Xavier guard would attack a closing out Hoya and blow by him on their way to two easy points. When that wasn't available, Reynolds, Farr, and O'Mara, none of who were in foul trouble, were too much for the valiant but isolated Jessie Govan in the low post. The only facet of the game where Xavier didn't completely get their way was their 3-17 three point shooting mark, but their staggering efficiency inside the arc more than made up for it as they put this one away with about 10 minutes left and cruised the rest of the way.
It was win #24 for a team that many weren't sold on in the pre-season over a team many expected better things from in the pre-season. Now Xavier looks ahead to a date with Villanova and likely the biggest game in the history of the Cintas Center.