In the American mythos, there is a long pantheon of those we remember for their acts when all seemed lost. Washington’s desperate lunge across the Delaware on Christmas Eve, The Lost Platoon in the Argonne Forest, the 101st surrounded, freezing, and cut off in Bastogne in the Battle of the Bulge. In sports we have those stories as well. Willis Reed played on a broken leg, no one who watched Byron Leftwich throw darts from one foot as his linemen carried him from play to play, Brandon McCarthy still pitches in the majors despite a horrific skull and brain injury, and Kerri Strug remains one of the indelible images of the Olympics for sticking a landing on a leg that had ceased to function as it should have. Against all odds, we say, they persevered to survive or win.
The reason it is “against all odds,” though, is because most of the time people or teams in those situations do not come back to victory. That brings us to the 2017 Xavier Musketeers, pinned with the their backs to the wall and simply unable to defy all manner of reality in order to carry the day. When Christ Holtmann sent in another wave of fresh bodies and cranked up the defensive pressure with time waning last night, Chris Mack looked down his bench and saw Tim Stainbrook. The reason not going quietly into that good night is so incredible is because, nearly all of the time, the night wins.
There is no one else to handle the ball
Say what you will about Quentin Goodin, a a lot of you have, he’s not failed to value the ball since taking over at the point guard position. In only one game has he had more turnovers than assists, and only once has he had less than five assists. Yesterday though, he was laboring under his inordinate workload and four fouls, and Coach Mack had no other options. Goodin was not good last night, he had more than half of the team’s turnovers, but it was his first genuinely bad night at the one. There to give him a break were Malcolm Bernard, with his TO rate of 24.6%, JP Macura, who had the second most turnovers last night and has games of seven, six, and five since the turn of the year, and Trevon Bluiett, who is rehabbing an ankle injury and isn’t a guard. Q wasn’t good, but there is very literally no one else.
Xavier is tired
There’s a reason that most coaches like to go 11 or 12 deep and have a rotation that includes at least nine players. Last season Xavier had ten guys play at least seven minutes per game and only Trevon bumped up against 30 minutes. This year, Xavier has eight guys getting at least 11 minutes (and no one between them and the walk-ons) and three guys averaging over 33 minutes (Goodin, Bluiett, and JP) since Edmond Sumner went down. In two games, Xavier has gotten even shorter due to Trevon not being available.
This plays itself out as games come down the stretch. With ten to play against Providence, Xavier was within five. With five to go against Seton Hall, Xavier was within five. Of course, last night Xavier had the ball and a chance to tie or lead with under three to play. At the pointy end, though, other teams are fresher than Xavier. Butler had only two players over 30 minutes to Xavier’s four, and had no one with the 39+ Trevon played. The same scenario played out against Seton Hall, where X had four guys log at least 32 minutes. At Providence both JP and Q played almost 40, Bernard played 35, and Rashid was also over 30 while the Friars went nine deep without having to deploy a walk on for five minutes. When games are ending, the Musketeers are forced to field a team of players who are bordering on exhausted and certainly less rested than their foes.
I can’t imagine anyone still insisting that Xavier isn’t a bubble team. Joe Lunardi now has them as a falling nine seed. Jerry Palm describes the Musketeers as “tanking” and posits the idea that they could lose out. Chris Dobbertean of SB Nation says that Xavier’s margin is shrinking down to just “breathing room.” In short, this is a team teetering on the very edge of crisis. A win on Wednesday has basically become a must at this point. The Musketeers are entering against all odds territory.