If you saw this coming last Sunday evening there’s a chance you are either a witch, or hopelessly, delusionally optimistic. A week ago Xavier was reeling from dropping the Crosstown Shootout and then just barely scraping past St. John’s after losing Edmond Sumner to one of those knee injuries that everyone who saw it instantly knew was bad. Now, Xavier has won two games by a combined four points but somehow injected the momentum into a season threatening to wither on the vine.
Xavier lacks a killer, but...
The Musketeers don’t have a killer in the Tu Holloway mold this season. There isn’t a guy you throw the ball with the game close in the last two minutes with the confidence that he doesn’t just want the win, he has the
balls intestinal fortitude to unquestionably deliver it. In the absence of that, Xavier has turned into something else: a team that spreads the ball around late and makes defenses adjust to a plethora of options. The Musketeers final two field goal makes came from different sources, their last five scoring plays came from five different players. When X needed a bucket last night, it was the whole team that stepped up. Incredibly encouragingly, one of those guys was a suddenly glass eating Kaiser Gates.
It’s Tyrique Jones, too
Quentin Goodin is getting, deservedly, a ton of attention for the way he has stepped into the gap after Edmond Sumner went down. Since the Shootout, though, it has been Tyrique Jones who has injected a desperately needed dose of mean into the front line. While Rashid Gaston and Sean O’Mara have come under fire for occasionally shrinking away from violence, Jones courts it like deep down he nurses a masochistic streak. His lines haven’t always been as pretty as last night’s 8-8, but he comes into the game as if he’s been let off a leash, not stood up from a bench. This iteration of Xavier really needed someone like that to announce his presence.
The season is coming back from the brink
If Xavier bottomed out when Ed’s knee buckled the situation looked something like this: down two guards, only one left, bigs not playing well, one road win, best win over a fading Clemson, and not a single victory over a top 25 team. It was possible to look at that, look at the roster, and briefly wonder if a total swan dive could drop this team into some unthinkable situation come. Now, X has added two road wins, grabbed that top 25 win, boosted the resume with a win over media darling in Creighton, and surged into second place in Big East.
Coach Mack excels with teams not laboring under expectations
This probably deserves its own article to unpack, but Coach Mack certainly seems to be at his best when he can convince his teams that they are being counted out. Last season the team was picked to finish fourth in the Big East and ended up at one point being ranked fifth in the nation. When the tournament came, the expectation of #2 seed, and a terrible matchup, saw an early exit. This season, the team came in with maybe the highest expectations of any X team in recent history and staggered through some rough patches. Now, with the circumstances stacked against them, Coach Mack has his squad back to bouncing off the mat and fighting for every second of every game like their very basketballing lives depending on it.