Xavier didn’t win last night. It wasn’t, though, for lack of trying. The Musketeers fought to the bitter (as usual against Nova) end against a Villanova team that clearly had the upper hand for most of the game. X threw the ball to their big man, limited their three point attempts, and came so tantalizingly close to getting the win that would have given them the slightest of bubble chances.
The story here could be of a Villanova 8-0 run that effectively ended the game late in the second half, or about the fact that there’s something about Xavier (maybe try different uniforms?) that makes it so the Wildcats can’t miss threes. Either of those would be legitimate ways to approach this game. That 8-0 with nine minutes left rocked the Musketeers and could have spelled the start of a blowout. Nova ran the lead to 14 and 16, but each team Xavier didn’t go under. It wasn’t pretty, but X always came dragging themselves back in.
And of course Villanova shot the three well. This isn’t last year’s team, but the Wildcats still take 52% of their shots from behind the arc and cash in on 36% of them. Last night, they went 15-34 and stuck daggers every time Xavier looked like they might rally. But Xavier kept looking like they might rally. The accusations that this team was willing to lay down and accept their fate have to quelled by the effort shown here and in the last two wins. There isn’t any quit in this squad right now, and the fact that they clawed to within in ten at the end is indicative of that.
That kind of fight is what the Musketeers are going to need the rest of the way. Not solely because that is what the program is built on what Xavier basketball has been defined by, but also because there is now no clear path to the NCAA tournament. If Xavier was harboring thoughts of an at large bid, a win against Nova was essential. There is one more chance at that victory, but X is now 3-3 in the Big East and will need to win multiple road games to lend much meaning to that matchup on the 24th of February.
Today, though, Xavier fans can look forward to the rest of Big East play with a growing sense of confidence. Over the last three games the shape of a Travis Steele team has begun to come into view. Paul Scruggs has stamped his name all over the team, Tyrique Jones and Zach Hankins have looked unstoppable for long stretches in the post, and defense has started to look at least presentable. The future, and just maybe yet this 2018-19 season, looks bright.