It was always only a fool’s hope, but it was hope. If Xavier could run the regular season table and make the finals of the Big East Tournament, anything was possible. For just a few glorious minutes at the start of today’s game, it seemed like a run unrivaled in Xavier’s Big East history was genuinely going to happen. Then the Musketeers threw it away.
It may be harsh to say that the season was lost today when, in reality, the seeds were sown back on November 20th with a letdown loss to SDSU, when they collapsed against Seton hall, and in a six game slide that left the Musketeers at their lowest ebb in the analytics era. The season effectively ended somewhere in there but, like family members around a hospital bed, Xavier Nation kept crowding over their team, begging for signs of life.
And, for three great weeks in late February and early March, Team 97 experienced some terminal lucidity. Credit Quentin Goodin, especially, for grinding out 40 minuter night after 40 minute night as X rallied. Tonight, though, the final bell tolled. It is now the automatic bid or nothing for Xavier. The bubble has burst, and burst in familiar ways.
Quentin Goodin has been solid during Xavier’s run, but he was bad tonight. 3-11 from the floor and six turnovers from the primary ballhandler is a recipe for a loss. In a game where Xavier was struggling to make the offense work, having the guy who initiates everything come up empty on 13 of the game’s 69 possessions is a handicap that is hard to overcome. Throw in Naji Marshall’s four turnovers and the two guys who have the ball the most combined for 10 of the teams 15. Even after the game Butler’s defensive turnover rate is 19%, 150th in the nation. The Musketeers self-inflicted these wounds. The Q pass directly to Kamar Baldwin and Naji’s to that Jorgensen git very late in the game rather tell the story.
Xavier’s big men were 11-17 from the floor and collected six of Xavier’s offensive rebounds tonight. The Musketeers thanked them for that effort by hoisting 23 three pointer in a Quixotic rush to match Butler. Paul Scruggs 2-7 is somewhat forgivable because he’s an excellent three point shooter. The 2-10 that Naji and Q combined for comes from two guys shooting 29% and 31% for the year. That’s not the kind of player that just needs to shoot themselves into it.
Xavier is maybe eight players deep. Not eight rotation players, eight players at all. There isn’t a backup point guard, the only pure shooter is a defensive liability, the best shooter is also the starting shooting guard, likely best on ball defender, and secondary ballhandler, there are two post players, Kyle Castlin is playing, God bless him, at the very limit of what he can get out of his skill set. Xavier lacks role players and they lack a supporting cast capable of providing a breather. It’s ride or die with the top of the squad, and that deficit can tell when those guys get tired.
Travis Steele has been brilliant, maybe better than that, for three weeks. Tonight, again, his defense was beyond good enough to win the game. Still, with Q clearly fatiguing, he couldn’t find his point guard even a solitary second of rest. While Elias Harden struggled with Jorgensen, he added value with his time, but only got one more minute than Kyle Castlin, who was playing in a game not at all suited to him. Ryan Welage was feeling it, but X couldn’t scheme him the ball. Perhaps most galling, though, was Zach Hankins only getting 26 minutes. Hankins was the most effective player in the game by some way, but while Xavier sputtered their way to .96 points per possession, Hankins sat from 9:49 to play until there was 1:02 left and Xavier was well and truly up against it. In the 8:47 that defined Xavier’s season, their best player wasn’t there.