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Season in Review: Let the games begin

Once the ball was tipped it was clear that Xavier needed some time to adjust.

NCAA Basketball: Xavier at Auburn
Xavier came desperately close to knocking off Auburn.
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Our Season in Review series started with a look back at the hiring of Travis Steele and the situation he inherited. Catch up on that here before diving in to the latest installment.

Most high major schools start the season with a couple of games to clean out the engine and make sure things are firing as they should be. What used to be called cupcakes are now more generally (and probably more accurately) called “buy games.” Whatever the nomenclature, the idea remains the same: a low major or a less successful mid major comes in, gets pounded, collects a check, and leaves. Xavier is no different, but their buy games this season hinted at trouble.

After 80 minutes against IUPUI and Evansville, two teams that combined to win 27 games and just 13 combined in their respective conferences, the Musketeers had to two second half deficits and had a margin of victory of 9.5 against the 190th and 227th teams in the nation. Things didn’t improve after that. The Musketeers got absolutely run off the floor by Wisconsin, lost in overtime to Auburn, and then surrendered a 45-17 run to the 184th most efficient offense in the nation in losing to San Diego State. Xavier salvaged a Thanksgiving trip by winning over Illinois, but was 3-3 and looking nothing like the Musketeers of the season previous.

With the writing already on the wall, Joel examined whether Xavier’s defense would be sufficient to support a run to the NCAA tournament. The answer, as it would turn out to be for most of the season, was no. Xavier responded to a week off and presumably some good home cooking by crushing Miami of Ohio. That wasn’t the start of a resurgence though, Xavier squeaked past Oakland and only led Ohio by two at home with ten minutes to play. A strong close there helped Travis Steele snag Jason Carter for this season, but continued struggles from Quentin Goodin didn’t help set a great mood for the run in to the Shootout.

The Shootout was roughly as bad as everyone had feared. Xavier hung tough for about 10 minutes but trailed by 10 at the half and then never made a run. The offense managed just .8 points per possession on the strength of a another developing story, horrendous three point shooting. The Musketeers went 5-25 in this contest, despite Ryan Welage and Paul Scruggs combining for 3-6. Kyle Castlin didn’t connect, and Naji Marshall and Quentin Goodin combined for 2-15. Turnovers on 20.3% of possessions made this game an efficient microcosm of Xavier’s struggles with the ball all year.

Wins against miserable EKU and Detroit Mercy squads couldn’t outweigh another disappointing loss to a MIssouri team that simply wasn’t very good. Concerningly, Xavier appeared to quit on a game for the first time in recent memory. Heading into the conference slate, the Musketeers were a team struggling with poor three point shooting, one of the worst high major defenses in the nation, and an overtaxed point guard who was clearly struggling with injury. The NCAA tournament was still a possibility, but a rookie coach having some struggles of his own was going to have to work a minor miracle.