Xavier has to win tonight if they don’t want to leave themselves a great deal of heavy lifting in the Big East tournament. That lands this game squarely in the land of the colloquial “must win.” The Musketeers have a carefully cultivated reputation as a team that brings with it a certain degree of hardness. They are a program that steps up when the chips are down and does what needs done. That’s the rep, but excluding elimination games, how has it actually played out?
2016: No must wins to see here, just a season long trampling of the opposition that landed the Musketeers a two seed that they promptly squandered.
2015: A KenPom that didn’t dip below 27 after January and a trip down the stretch that only included losses to Nova twice and Arizona means that this team was never in any real danger either.
2014: The first team that had some real digging to do in March. This squad with Semaj was on the bubble, dropped two to Seton Hall and Nova to end the season, and then faced a first round Big East tournament game that they absolutely had to have. Behind 19 from Justin Martin and five steals from Dee Davis, they got it. The loss in the next round to Creighton hurt, but the Musketeers win over Marquette at least snuck them into the play-in game.
2013: On the 23rd of February Xavier was struggling but still alive when VCU came to the Cintas. They very much needed to get that win to bolster the resume and strengthen their bubble position. Just after the half, X took a 14 point lead and had a 91% chance of getting their “must win.” They didn’t. A string of win one, lose one after that didn’t help, but this season was over when Xavier couldn’t hold that lead.
2012: The team the brawl year was supposed to be one of the best in the nation. Late rallies against Vandy and Purdue seemed to confirm that. However, they tanked five of six after that ugly incident, only went 10-6 in the A10, and then blew a lead in a huge road game at Saint Louis. They entered the conference tournament with an KenPom ranking well below the possible cut line and no signature wins since the calendar flipped.
After squeaking past Dayton in the first round (Mark Lyons torched the Flyers late for the win), Xavier had the win but Saint Louis was still a “must win” game. Tu Holloway went for 21/5/3, X won and, despite losing the auto bid game the next day, went dancing to the Sweet 16.
2011: 15-1 in the A10, the bid never in any real danger. This season, ironically, ended against Marquette.
2010: 14-2 in the A10 and never in any chance of doing anything other meeting their date with destiny against Kansas State.
We could, obviously, keep going back through the history of Xavier basketball, but those are the Chris Mack teams. In games when they have absolutely had to win a game in a non-elimination situation they have, by my estimation, gone 2-1. Make that 3-1 tonight and Xavier fans can breathe just that little bit easier.