A wise man once said that everything must end badly, or else it wouldn’t end. How, though, do you recap something that didn’t end? Xavier’s season didn’t end well or poorly, it wasn’t a moment of heartbreak or elation, there was no sense of any sort of closure. Xavier walked off the court and Madison Square Garden and into history. They and DePaul played the final game of the 2019-2020 Big East season. It wasn’t a final, it wasn’t a championship, it wasn’t even known at the time that it was the last game.
Going back to that bizarre week in March will take time that we will allot later in the review process. It’s May now, and college basketball may have been the first thing lost to the spread of this coronavirus, but it was hardly the last. Even here, with four rabid fans, it has been hard to spend a great deal of time thinking about basketball when dire warnings, shelter at home orders, and familiar faces all but completely obscured by masks has become the order of the day.
That said, it’s time to get back to it. Xavier’s season may not have ended, indeed, it won’t ever end, but it’s time to place as neat a bow and can be put on it and look ahead to the upcoming season. Tyrique Jones, Quentin Goodin, and Naji Marshall have more than earned a farewell. The lessons learned in the season that will now run in perpetuity have to be cataloged and studied. Let’s get to it.
A scorching start
Xavier started the season with high hopes. The Musketeers were ranked in the top 25, had a great recruiting class coming in, and still had the Core Four in place. Almost immediately, things went wrong. KyKy Tandy and Daniel Ramsey were injured and couldn’t play. (Ramsey never did return.) Without those two pieces of the recruiting class, the attention fell on Dahmir Bishop and Zach Freemantle.
To say those two started well would be an understatement. They combined to play 40 minutes in Xavier’s first game and put up a line of 15/12/3. The Core Four were all back out there together, and Xavier swept Jacksonville away. The Siena Saints also went by the wayside without a great deal of effort. The first real test was Missouri, and Xavier passed it, but only just. The Musketeers led 27-12 early but, in a throwback to 2018-19, shot way too many three pointers, blew that lead, and had to use overtime to escape with a win.
That was hardly the most interesting overtime game in the first few weeks of the season, though. Xavier met UConn in the Charleston Classic. The Huskies are coming back to the Big East next season and, if this game was any indication, the seeds may be in place for a great rivalry.
The game went back and forth the whole way. Naji Marshall forced overtime with the first of his long range bombs off the 21 Pitch play that Villanova made famous in the national championship against North Carolina. Naji went on a personal 13 point run, James Bouknight answered, and Jason Carter eventually salted the game away at the line. In Charleston Xavier went to 6-0. The Musketeers were ranked, undefeated, and had reinforcements on the way. With only Florida between them and some early season silverware, things could hardly have been looking better.