What did you expect this season?
Not: what were you hoping for because it’s your favorite team, but what did you actually expect?
Looking at this in a vacuum, if you take away the names and the faces and the affinity you have for both, this was always going to be a tough season. Xavier brought back one guy who took more than 16% of the team’s shots when he was on the floor; that’s Tyrique Jones, who barely played a third of the available minutes.
Xavier scored 2,953 points last season; fewer than 1,000 of them came back this year. Lost too were 225 of 274 made threes, 770 of 1,342 rebounds, and 661 of 1011 made baskets. The coach, seeing a bare cupboard as the most likely situation for the next season and sensing his value at a peak, left for greener pastures.
Coming in were a first-time head coach and a couple of freshmen who weren’t moving the needle that much in recruiting rankings.
To his credit, Travis Steele went right to work, landing the D2 player of the year, the team’s lone shooting threat, and a legit glue guy as immediately eligible transfers. It’s a borderline basketball crime that the high-major level will only get one year of Zach Hankins, because he is far better experienced than described.
Now the team sits at 9-6 with an NIT bid as the best realistic hope outside of winning the Big East tournament. It sucks, but... what did you expect?
There have been opportunities that have gone begging. Xavier couldn’t stop the bleeding in an early second-half run that doomed them against Wisconsin. They were right there with Auburn but couldn’t seal the deal. Yesterday, they crumbled from a winning position against Seton Hall, allowing a 34-14 run to turn a 10-point lead into a 10-point loss at home.
Maybe a team more used to playing with each other can pull something together against Wisconsin. Maybe a team with one more guy can get it across the line in regulation against Auburn. Last night, maybe a more veteran team or a more veteran coach can calm things down when they were panicking down the stretch.
The thing is, Xavier is none of those things, and we have known that since October. This team is what we knew it was, and we’re getting the results that team is capable of putting together.
I’ve seen some really hot takes going around, everything from headbands being a sign the team is too selfish to Travis Steele being a bust. Both of those are too ridiculous to be taken seriously 15 games into the season.
Chris Mack transitioned fairly smoothly, but it probably didn’t hurt him to have Jordan Crawford and Mark Lyons coming eligible with a year in the system already, Tu Holloway coming into his own, Dante Jackson’s veteran leadership, and Jamel McLean and Jason Love anchoring the paint.
Sean Miller had a rockier time, but even he had Justin Doellman, Stan Burrell, Brian Thornton, and Justin Cage. Both Mack and Miller also had the luxury of cutting their teeth in the A10, not one of the nation’s top basketball conferences.
Despite some rough spots, both of those coaches turned out just fine.
Help is on the horizon, but these are no doubt dark days for Xavier. Travis Steele is making the toughest transition of any Xavier coach in a long time, maybe ever. He has less to work with immediately combined with much higher expectations thanks to the program’s growth.
Xavier is 9-6 with an NIT bid as the best realistic hope outside of winning the Big East tournament. Like any fan, I was able to squint at the roster and the schedule and talk myself into this team being in at-large contention this year. I know that’s what I had talked myself into, and I know I’m not alone in that. Before we get too worked up about the team not meeting what we had hoped, though, it bears asking, realistically, what did we expect?