The 2016-17 college basketball season ended with an absolute rockfight of a final in which a team that Xavier fans have no love for beat a team that has relentlessly and unapologetically committed academic fraud for the last two decades. It was undoubtedly not the basketball showcase the NCAA was looking for. Here, though, we focus on the Xavier Musketeers. Starting today and continuing until we’re done, we’ll break down the season that started with such high hopes and ended in the Elite Eight.
Xavier opened the 2016-17 season with perhaps the highest expectations in school history. The team was ranked seventh in the nation, had added some excellent freshman and transfer pieces, and was returning Edmond Sumner, Trevon Bluiett, and JP Macura. The stage seemed set for one of Xavier’s best teams to date.
The first hurdle for the team was the Tire Pros Invitational. A decent field gave Xavier chances for wins over Clemson, who we all expected to be good at that point, and Northern Iowa if the cards broke right. Clemson turned out to not be as good a win as hoped, but Xavier was more than happy to take it early in the year. The final was against a Northern Iowa that ended up being nowhere near as good as they usually in the MVC. Xavier beat them in the final, then beat them again by 22 six days later. Now, 6-0 and coming off wins over teams thought to be contenders, the Musketeers were rolling.
Hiding under that shiny start were some of the concerns that would plague Xavier as the year went. The thing about being 6-0, though, is that those things don’t seem quite as concerning. Yes, the defense wasn’t as rock solid as in the past, but UNI had only managed 42 in the rematch. Sure, the three point shooting wasn’t great, but a team with JP, Trevon, and Myles Davis returning wouldn’t be bad from behind the arc all year.
Things got serious after that start, which ran to 7-0 after a demolition of NDSU. A roadtrip out west featured back to back games against Baylor and Colorado. Baylor was the real deal and everyone knew it, Colorado was the kind of team that lurks in the middle of every major conference waiting to snap wins away from the unwary. Xavier was riding high though, and they kept riding high for about 26 minutes of the Baylor game. Ed turned the ball over three times, Trevon committed five fouls in the second half alone and the team shot 30% inside the arc and 32% outside it. A 29-10 second half run for the Bears put the game away and left Xavier looking shellshocked.
Things went from bad to worse against Colorado. X led by seven with 12 minutes to play and then coughed up a 15-0 run and the game. The recap said, “Most glaring was the almost complete mental breakdown late in the game as off balance, early shot clock free throws and slow feet on defense became more the norm than aberrations.” What happened after the game against the Buffaloes pushed that to the back of everyone’s mind, but that sentence was, in various forms, going to come back to Xavier later in the season.
That was in the future, though, and Xavier responded back in that late 2016 present. Returning to the friendly confines of the Cintas Center, Xavier beat a solid Utah team and then a very good Wake Forest team to steady the ship. Two road losses to two competitive teams suddenly weren’t so big an issue. Sure, the Musketeers didn’t look great in either game, but they won them both and did it by showing a bit of the nerve that had been missing on the road swing.
Nothing makes you right quite like obliterating a cupcake, and Xavier did just that when Eastern Washington visited to finish the non-conference slate. The Musketeers, somehow, trailed 22-11 at one point before going on a 35-8 run. Neither of those things are typos. X simply found a different gear and crushed the Eagles to head into Christmas and Big East play at 10-2.
The Big East started almost as encouragingly as the non-conference ended. Great Coach Ed Cooley brought his talent laden team into the Cintas and left 40 minutes later having been beaten by the same 82-56 scoreline as EWU was. Unlike the Eagles, the Friars barely put up a fight, falling behind 20-7 early and then simply slipping into the distance. Next up was a roadtrip to Georgetown and another win. JTIII hadn’t been fired yet, but the calls for his head were already loud and clear.
The new year opened with Xavier pouring 97 on St. John’s in a game that saw them score 45 points in just 13 minutes to end the first half. During a game winning 19-2 run, Chris Mulling watched without calling a timeout as the Musketeers demolished his team. If there was a high water mark for the start of the season, this was it. Xavier was rolling, an offensive juggernaut, 13-2, unbeaten in the Big East and, best of all, Myles Davis was coming back.