There was a contingent of fans that thought Xavier was a Final Four contender coming into the year. Rashid Gaston was going to replace Jalems Farrnolds, the guards were going to keep developing, Trevon Bluiett was going to continue his swingman/power forward hybrid domination, and the coach of the year was going to stitch together the rest.
That hasn’t happened. The wheels fell off before the proverbial car even left the garage. Myles Davis sat out the entire first semester after criminal damaging charges stemmed from an argument with a girlfriend. The team struggled out of the gate shooting the three and never corrected the course, free throw shooting went from average to an abomination, the post players never developed into a consistent threat, and Trevon slowly transitioned into a spot up shooter before falling into a massive slump.
Still, the team recovered from two early losses and was well and truly rolling when they hit the first really consistent stretch of tough competition. Yesterday, that stretch ended with Xavier on a three game losing streak, the coach taking the tactic of calling the media out for throwing dirt on Xavier’s grave, and the team undoubtedly falling out of the top 25 since the 16th of November of 2015. The Musketeers have gotten destroyed by two teams that have held the number one ranking by an average of 20 points, and lost their other two top 25 games by simply not playing well enough to win.
So where does that leave Xavier? Despite this very concerning swoon, this is still a tournament team. Right now X is 25th in the KenPom with all of the preseason bias now played out of the numbers. The last two years it was the 34th ranked team in KenPom that was the first left out, the year prior it was the 31st. That’s not a world of wiggle room, but it still lands Xavier easily in the field when you consider that many teams below that number also still got in.
Most Xavier fans aren’t worried about that, but there is a lot of doubt creeping in, and for good reason. The Big East is a good conference, but there isn’t another stretch like this coming up. Xavier has Georgetown (66th), at UC (20th), and at St. John’s (107th) to finish out this month. Is there anything that the Musketeers can do in that stretch that would set their fans minds back at ease?
Beating Georgetown would be a start, but the Hoyas are more an elixir at this point than a genuine indication of getting well. The same Providence squad that Xavier destroyed what seems like an age ago just beat JTIII’s squad of underachievers by 18. While beating Georgetown would certainly beat the alternative, it would hardly indicate that the Musketeers are on the way back. It’s that game against UC that offers a chance for X to show that they are capable of winning games that matter, but even it comes with caveats. Winning a rivalry game would undoubtedly look good come selection time, but it would not necessarily indicate that anything has been fixed. The team on the downswing or the team struggling that year frequently wins games like the Crosstown Shootout simply because of the emotion involved. Beating St. John’s just means that Xavier still has a pulse.
There is still a trip to Creighton remaining, and Villanova and Butler still have to visit the Cintas. Does Xavier have to win all of those games to undo the damage that this three game set has done? Possibly not. Surely X must beat Butler at home. Getting swept by the Bulldogs would be a clear indication that the Musketeers don’t belong in the top echelon of college basketball this year. Beating Villanova would show almost the exact opposite, that Xavier is capable of beating the best on their day. Creighton presents an opportunity of a different sort. Right now, there are no good road wins on the resume. The opportunities at Butler and Nova have already gone by the wayside, leaving the Bluejays as the only chance for X to pick up a good win away from home.
That’s where Xavier stands right now. The next game absolutely must be won in order to avoid a complete meltdown. After that, there are some chances left to grab good wins, but they are going by the wayside rapidly. Xavier doesn’t need The Run all over again, but things aren’t going well. As we said last night, for this team to fend off the falling dirt, they need to start looking alive.