Confession time: I'm a Cleveland Indians fan. The Tribe is in one of the richest veins of form in living memory, dominating the AL Central for the past few years and probably for the next couple. I love baseball. It was the first sport I ever played when I started in T-ball and, 18 years later, the last when I stepped off the field for the last time.
I hated last season for the Indians, as they marched in a perfunctory manner towards an almost preordained first-round exit. By September, I was tired of the season; it seemed like most of the players were, too.
This Xavier team is not like that at all. Sure, they're a step (or a few) down from what we expect from the Muskies. Last year, this program was winning the conference and earning a top seed. This year, they're battling to keep their heads above water and their names in the tournament conversation.
And a battle it has been. This team has been overmatched at times and undermanned from the outset. They have struggled against their obvious limitations from the outset.
I know that some of the members of the team have at least a passing familiarity with our work here, which kind of sucks. In a year like this, we've had to write some things about them that probably aren't fun to read about yourself. I don't bear any of them any ill will. I don't think they should be listening to what is being said about them, whether by credentialed members or no-account bloggers in their mom's basements or anyone in between. The team has adopted "Just us" as a motto, and I think that's appropriate.
Anyway, it has never felt like these guys have been culpable for this year's disappointment aside from not being able to play as well as they needed to. In 8 games since the start of February, Quentin Goodin has piled up a staggering 309 minutes played. Naji Marshall is just behind him with 301. At times, each of the other three starters has taken turns carrying the team. Through the ups and downs, the team's effort and intensity have hardly wavered, even when the results have been less than optimal.
It would have been easy for this team to pack it in. They haven't.
That's why, at 16-14 and needing the automatic bid to make it back to the NCAA Tournament, this team still has me. It hasn't been the Indians' professional trudge to the inevitable; it has been David walking to the brook 30 times to pick out his 5 smooth stones and go face-to-face with Goliath. Sometimes, it has been David doing his best against himself.
This team hasn't always given us everything we've wanted, but I think they've always given us everything they had. Whether this ends somewhere in the NCAA Tournament, or in the NIT, or on the floor at MSG, I'm proud of the work these guys have done. They deserve the esteem of Xavier fans, if for nothing other than their willingness to rise to the bell over and over again.
I hope they don't care what anyone outside the locker room thinks. I also hope they know how many people, myself included, support them and are grateful for the way they've gone after it this year. They’ve made a .500, rebuilding season worth watching. They're not done yet.