[Ed. note: It brings me no joy to write this. This isn’t what I wanted from this season. I love this program dearly, but there are things that need to be said.]
There comes a moment in everyone’s life where an ugly truth must finally be faced. Maybe he or she just doesn’t like you like that, maybe you really are going to lose your job, maybe it’s just the recognition that your college basketball team isn’t good this year. In fact, it might be time to sit down and consider the fact that they are downright bad. For Xavier fans, that reality set in when Missouri’s second half lead ballooned to 29. This season as Musketeer fans know basketball seasons is over.
That’s not the defeatism that comes with being run out of the gym by a thoroughly mediocre SEC squad currently projected to finish 16-14, it’s a simple reality. No team with Xavier’s projected resume has ever so much as sniffed the tournament. Remember that 2013 Evansville group or 2016 James Madison? Of course not, but that’s who Xavier finds itself among now. There is no icing to put on this, no spoonful of sugar to help it go down, these Musketeers are a not a good team.
“But,” I can hear you (and read you in our mentions) say, “if we just go 11-7 in the Big East, we’ll be right back in the hunt.” Well, God bless you for your optimism, but I’m here to ruin that. At what point tonight, or in the second half capitulation against UC, or losing to SDSU, or barely hanging on against Oakland did you see a team that was going to beat Villanova, St. John’s, Butler, Marquette, or even Creighton multiple times? Because that’s what this fanciful 11-7 will take.
Even assuming, and I wouldn’t, six wins over Georgetown, DePaul, and Providence, five more must come from teams that are most assuredly going dancing this year. Was it Naji’s 2-10 from the floor, his second best performance over the last three games, tonight that laid on that hope? Was it a second straight night with a turnover rate nudging 30% that made beating Villanova seem possible? Is it a defense that allows opponents to shoot 37.4% from behind the arc and then lackadaisically collects 71% of misses?
There is, of course, a whole host of other evidence that suggests this team isn’t suffering some blip, but simply isn’t good. Nearing the halfway mark of the season Xavier sports a point guard that can’t shoot from deep but has taken the second most attempts, a three point shooter who shows defense the same abhorrence he shows meat, freshman who might just be props, a legitimate offensive threat who can’t get off the bench because..., a coach who couldn’t do a better impression of being in over his head, and Paul Scruggs, who rages nightly against the dying of the light with an effort Dylan Thomas would love.
There aren’t scraps to be mined for hope here, either. Quentin Goodin’s dropping turnover rate is eclipsed by the empty possessions he racks up by insisting on shooting. Tyrique Jones and Zach Hankins offensive efficiency is wasted on a team hoisting 38.6% of its attempts, a more than 3% increase from last year, from behind the arc. Ryan Welage is the nation’s 55th most efficient scorer, but plays defense so poorly he can’t even get 20 minutes per game. The offense is mediocre, but the defense is genuinely bad. The erstwhile star of the team has taken so significant a step backwards that it can be rightly questioned if last year was something of a mirage. All of this without touching on the coaching or the ugly rumblings starting to spread that this team tends to quit rather than fight when things start to go bad.
Finally, no, this isn’t 2004 again. The team that made The Run famously started at 10-9, but that record hides some things. For starters, that team buried bad opponents, winning a game by 39, three by 20+, and one by 19 in that span. There were no six point victories over freaking Evansville. That team also had two losses of the SDSU/Missouri sort, but it lost four games to KenPom top 50 teams as well. By the time that squad hit conference play, it had wins over KenPom #86, #67, #29, and #16 under its belt. This year’s team doesn’t have a single win this good, with Illinois currently hovering around the #100 mark. Where that team then had the Atlantic 10 to get healthy, this year’s squad is staring down the barrel of a conference slate that both major projection services see going 8-10 at best.
So be optimistic if you’d like. At least until Selection Sunday, it won’t do you any real harm to think that your team still has a chance. Just know, even if it’s somewhere you don’t talk about at parties, that you’re lying to yourself. This Xavier team isn’t getting an at-large and looks for all the world to lack the intestinal fortitude to make a miracle run through the Big East tournament. For the first time since 1999-2000, the NIT beckons.