While every college basketball team starts the year with ostensibly the same goal, it's not actually a possibility for most of them. The Final Four remains the domain most seasons of basketball's elite. The low and mid major schools need a virtual miracle just to have a chance, and even the high majors are crushed by the overwhelming weight of the math. One tenth of one percent of NCAA DI teams make the Final Four, only five percent of tournament teams can even get there. It just isn't a realistic expectation before the season starts.
That brings us to Xavier and a recent win over Villanova that you may remember. Before the year we asked you all what the expectation for a successful season for Xavier was. The fact that the Final Four wasn't even a possible answer on the our poll tells you a little bit about where expectations were before the season.
That's where we were before the ball was tipped for the first time. Congrats to you 3%ers out there, Xavier has already achieved your goal in all but the most literal of manners. Even if the Musketeers lose out, they're in the tournament. After that, obviously, it's impossible to tell. Even the most hard to please of Xavier fans would have been happy with an Elite Eight. That was before Miami(Oh) and the season started, before beating Michigan, before rolling through the Advocare, and far before beating the number one team in the nation.
Now, Xavier is 25-3 and ranked #5 in the AP Poll. The Musketeers have been a top ten team since the 14th of December polls came out. According to KenPom, Xavier has the 20th best offense in the nation and the 22nd best defense and those numbers have come against the 43rd toughest schedule in college basketball. That casts an entirely different light on the season and make it impossible not to adjust what we expect come tournament time.
When we first voted on that poll, I took the Sweet 16 option. As a Xavier fan growing up, the tournament was always the virtual guarantee that it seems to be now. Trips to the Sweet 16 and especially the Elite Eight were moments of elation. That's changed now. A team that is ranked in the top five in the nation can only see losing in the Sweet 16 as an upset and a somewhat unfulfilling end to an otherwise excellent season. That's the predicament that Xavier finds themselves in now. The season has been amazing, but anything other than at least an Elite Eight run is going to feel like something of a failure at the end.
So where do you land on this? Can a basketball season be considered a success even if the team doesn't live up to it's ranking? If Xavier finishes the regular season with 27 wins and enters the NCAA tournament with 29 or 30, would you be ok with getting bounced in the Sweet 16? As the season goes on the chance for an amazing run gets higher but, with that also comes the reality that formerly exciting finishes may no longer be enough.