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Season in Review: Struggles, then a swoon

Xavier’s Big East season got out of the gates slowly, then came apart.

NCAA Basketball: Marquette at Xavier Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

Season in Review: Part One covered the departure of Chris Mack and the appointment of Travis Steele as his successor to put the program back together after an unprecedented departure of talent.

Season in Review: Part Two broke down the shaky non-conference start to the season as Steele undertook the task of trying to fit together the pieces he had to build a Big East contender.

Xavier hit the Big East portion of the slate at 8-5. In that record came a 2-2 in their last four, with the two losses each being by 15 points to first UC in the Shootout, and then to Missouri in a complete capitulation in Columbia. Heading into the conference schedule, Xavier was in the unusual position of having garnered nary a single marquee win. Illinois, who finished the season 84th in the KenPom, was the best win the Musketeers managed. The loss to SDSU (125th in the KenPom) loomed as a potential hurdle to any at large selection. Xavier needed to get things together, and soon.

Conference play started well with a 17-4 run to put away a game DePaul Blue Demons team. While needing that to beat the Blue Demons wasn’t a great sign, Xavier had struggle with DePaul even when seasons were going well. This, however, wasn’t going to be that. Xavier lost to Seton Hall by 10 in a game that they had led by 10 in the second half. In that game Xavier turned the ball over 10 times in the second half alone. That issue, concerning before, was becoming crippling quickly. In the next game, nearly 20% of Xavier possessions ended in turnovers and Marquette cruised to victory. The Musketeers were in trouble.

Relief came in the form of perhaps Xavier’s most entertaining game of the season. With Xavier trailing 39-22 to an aggressively mediocre Georgetown team, both Travis Steele’s patience and whiteboard snapped. Xavier’s first year coach finally vented his frustration in a timeout that was more about catharsis than instruction. The Musketeers roared back into the game behind Zach Hankins and Tyrique Jones and pulled off an impressive six point win. Down ten with four minutes to play against Butler in their next outing, Xavier came back for another white knuckle win. With a new focus on a double post and rediscovered sense of fight, the season was looking up. Then it very much wasn’t.

Xavier lost their next six games.

There’s no sugar coating what happened after the Butler comeback. X lost to Nova, but water also continued being wet. Then the Musketeers lost to Providence. Then they lost to Marquette. Then they lost to Butler. Then they lost to Georgetown. Then they lost to Creighton. Then they lost to DePaul. By 12. On January 28th, we officially buried Xavier’s at large chances for the season. Point guard play was a consistent question mark, the Musketeers turned the ball over too much, the defense plunged to 199th in the nation, and none of the players or the coaches looked to have a way to turn it around.

The last time Xavier lost six in a row, they had Trevon Bluiett coming back from injury and a team full of firepower waiting for him. This time they had limited talent, stars that just hadn’t quite clicked, and a season well past the brink. For the Musketeers to have any chance at showing life in March, something truly special was going to have to happen.