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. Don’t forget to vote on our player ratings for the year.
Have you ever seen a car wreck? Some come with a certain slow-motion inevitability to them, a long screech of tires, both vehicles with time to slow, occupants fully braced for impact. Others, though, are sudden and violent. A truck that was in perfect forward motion a second before suddenly on its nose and flipping, maybe an abrupt swerve one way or the other previous to that crunch of collapsing metal and the more familiar sound of shattering glass. Xavier’s season was more reminiscent of the second of those. Everything was fine and then, explosively, it wasn’t.
Myles Davis return was supposed to take Xavier up to the next level. The Musketeers were 13-2 and had been playing good ball, but they had a couple of flaws (outside shooting, propensity turnovers) that the senior guard was supposed to help paper over. The first game with Davis in the fold was the game that is always the toughest all year, away to Villanova. Xavier got obliterated.
That happens though, the Wildcats are unquestionably one of the elite programs in college basketball. Xavier followed that loss, though, by going on the road and losing to Butler in a game that was played in a large animal enclosure for some reason. This was followed by a home loss to Creighton. Suddenly, there were car parts and wheels flying everywhere. The Musketeers had gone from 13-2 and Big East contender to 3-3 in conference and disintegrating.
Then, the bad turned into almost sublime piece of theater. Myles Davis, having yet to make a field goal in his return but just looking like the fire was coming back, left the team. There’s a great deal of speculation as to why that we won’t indulge here, but the team was now missing the piece that was supposed to propel them to the top and also coming off a three game losing slide. A brief respite against Georgetown was followed by the Crosstown Shootout. Surely the Musketeers could rouse themselves for that one, right?
Well, Trevon Bluiett did. Tre scorched the Bearcats for 40 points in one of the virtuoso performances in Shootout history. In arguably the most efficient scoring games Xavier has ever seen, Bluiett scored his 40 on 15 shots. If you’d like to speculate as to how amazing that is or how he didn’t get more looks, feel free. Unfortunately, Xavier squandered all of that by being unconscionably soft on the defensive glass. There’s simply no other way to put it: the Bearcats outworked, outhustled, and outmatched the Musketeers in the second half. Three losses in a row became four of five.
Xavier bounced back to win the next game, but that was hardly the news of the St. John’s win. Edmond Sumner was lost for the year on one of those knee injuries that everyone knew was devastating the moment it happened. That left Xavier with one pure guard, freshman Quentin Goodin, on a roster that was supposed to be loaded. Of course, in true Xavier fashion, the Musketeers won their next three on the trot, beating Seton Hall, Creighton, and DePaul to go to 8-3 in the Big East despite Gooding getting a grand total of 17 minutes of rest in those games.
Improbably, the Musketeers were rolling, but clouds were on the horizon. Trevon Bluiett had rolled his ankle in beating Seton Hall at the buzzer and in the next game against Villanova, just a month from Selection Sunday, he did it for good. Bluiett left the game in a walking boot and on crutches. Xavier was simply running out of players and was now completely out of stars.
There was no preparing for what happened after that. Xavier went on their worst losing streak since 1982. (That streak included a loss to Oklahoma City, a team now in the NAIA). Trevon didn’t play against Providence or Marquette and Xavier didn’t score 65 points in either game. When he came back, he couldn’t drive off the ankle well at all. Defenders noticed, and Xavier stayed in a funk. Three losses became four when Xavier lost to Seton Hall. More importantly, that game dropped them onto the bubble for the first time all year.
Butler, and a bevy of late turnovers, made it five straight losses. A team that started the year at seventh in the nation was now shooting through the bubble on its way out the bottom. Malcolm Bernard held a players only meeting before the game against Marquette at home, which Xavier promptly went out and lost by allowing 95 points. The collapse was complete and total. The car had wrecked.
From the moment when Myles Davis rejoined the team through the loss against Marquette, Xavier went 5-10, fell out of the top 25, lost to Butler twice, lost the Crosstown Shootout, landed on the bubble, and then lost their way all the way onto the back end of the bubble. It was as bad as the Musketeers have been in recent memory. All that was left was one regular season game against DePaul, and then the Big East tournament. Xavier needed to figure things out, or this season was ending in the NIT.