It is, somehow, nearly Christmas. Last Christmas most of us had a vague understanding of what a coronavirus was, hadn’t ever heard the phrase “Covid-” anything, and were cheering for a basketball team that was doing well. Two of those things have changed drastically.
Last Christmas the Musketeers had one mediocre loss to Wake Forest and what appeared to be good wins over Missouri, TCU, and UConn. None of those ended up being really banner achievements and the wheels fell off Xavier shortly after the turn of the year. This season the Musketeers once again have three wins that look good and have managed to avoid any bad losses. That is where the similarities end.
Last season it was a Xavier team that wasn’t terribly deep or terribly good at a lot of things that was winning those games. They got by on guts and guile, both which they had in spades, and a defense that would come and go. At least so far, that isn’t the case this year. This Musketeer squad is deep. Nine players average at least 14 minutes and Ben Stanley is still working his way in.
More importantly, this team has shown that they can win in the way that games are won in college ball these days, by scoring a ton of points. The team was bad against Creighton 21st in the nation in offensive efficiency, 22nd in effective field goal percentage, 30th in three point shooting, 43rd in two point shooting, and 47th in turnover rate. That’s a good offense and it papers over a lot of cracks. The defense is also up to a solid 68th after holding the Bluejays to .88 points per possession. A team that does that to the seventh best offense in the nation has the potential to be excellent.
Xavier’s resume thus far reflects that. In Warren Nolan’s NET system (which extremely closely parallels the NCAAs) the Musketeers are 47th, in the KenPom they stand 42nd, and Torvik has them at 33rd. Xavier is 2-1 in Q1 games, 1-0 in Q2, and obviously undefeated the rest of the way down. That is, for now, the resume of an in without any question seven seed. Not glamorous, but better than Kentucky is doing at the moment.
There is a sense in which it is way too soon to look at these things. It’s possible that the season comes to sudden halt again, the tournament is canceled, or all manner of virus related hell breaks loose. That’s not likely to be the case again (right? please?) and it isn’t too soon to see where Xavier sits. What they have done so far has stood them in good stead. As the players go home for a hard earned few days off in which they hopefully just stay in the house, they do so knowing that they have laid the groundwork for a successful season.