Xavier's starters are in their fourth, fourth, fourth, third, and third years as college basketball players. They are all old enough to buy alcohol, as is the first guy off the bench, who is in his fifth year as a collegiate competitor. The rest of the rotation is made up of freshmen and Dontarius James, but Xavier is still the 65th most experienced team in the nation (per KenPom). The only teams in the league with more experience are Providence, Butler, and Marquette; those three are a combined 6-2 in the Big East.
Xavier, you may be aware, is 1-2.
The frustrating thing about Xavier's record is that it could easily be 3-0 if the Muskies played like the veteran team they are. Xavier teams of the past have often relied on their veteran cores, outperforming their talent level with the graft and guile that comes with having been there before.
If this team wants to meet that description, it has a lot of progress to make.
One of the hallmarks of a veteran team is the ability to recognize and adapt to a game situation without the coach having to call a timeout. Knowing when to run and when to play slow. When to iso a bad matchup and when to grind sets. When a team needs to bear down and get a stop and a score to stop a big run.
Frustratingly, this team has shown all of those skills at times. They've had the feel to identify and ride the hot hand, no matter who is holding it. They've had the discipline to execute long offensive possessions rather than going for the first halfway open shot. Unfortunately, they've also had moments where they've failed in all those things, allowing opponents to reel off big runs that effectively bury games in their infancy.
This was all on full display on Wednesday versus Seton Hall. The Muskies' execution deserted them in the first half, as they let the Hall reel off a 17-3 run that flipped Xavier's win probability from just under 70% to just over 30% in 5 minutes of game play. That run was bookended in despair by Seton Hall scoring the last 8 points of the game.
Between those two dark clouds lay the silver lining that is connecting Xavier to the great teams of the past: their fight. Even as Muskie fans saw the writing on the wall, the team kept battling, frequently cutting the lead to within touching distance before shooting themselves in the foot in a manner befitting a less veteran squad.
The potential remains in place, and it doesn't take much imagination to see this team ruining the hopes of more than one fan base this March. Fighting spirit isn't enough, though; if this team wants to meet its potential at the pointy end of the season, it is going to have to channel the clinical instincts that have gotten the job done in the past.