Xavier steamed into February in a world of hurt. The Musketeers missed adding any truly impressive non-conference wins as TCU faded badly and UConn and UC trundle along in the American. Following that, X landed at 2-6 in conference after a three game losing streak that featured two head kickings and a terrible loss to Marquette in which free throws somehow became a challenge. In there as well was the departure of recruiting class centerpiece Dahmir Bishop due to a combination of homesickness and playing time concerns. Throw in a stagnant offense and a defense as porous and mostly fictional as the newly instituted "travel ban" from China, and Xavier needed a miracle to raise their 59 KenPom rank and become relevant.
On February 1st, they got it. Xavier stormed out of the gates at top 10 Seton Hall with a 30-4 run. The Musketeers remembered how to play defense and held Myles Powell to nine points. On the other end, X rode 19/18/1 from Tyrique Jones and 19 more from Naji Marshall to a frankly shocking win.
Two more wins followed as Xavier got back within a game of .500 in conference and threw themselves back into at large contention. During the threw game winning streak, Jones rebounded essentially every missed shot, recording 54 boards in that span. At his peak Jones was grabbing, literally this time, more than 25% of the misses in any given game. With the season on the line, Xavier's enormous center stepped up.
X went 5-2 in February and ended the month back in the 40s in the KenPom, higher than that in the still enigmatic NET and within a game of break even in Big East play. They got that win on March 1st in a tough game at Georgetown against a Hoyas team that had fully pulled the chute. Xavier's defense through that eight game run back to mattering was smothering. The Musketeers looked like the team Travis Steele promised they would be, aggressive on defense, opportunistic of offense, and tough everywhere.
That is what Steele promised. Largely what has been delivered over the last two seasons has been inconsistency. Xavier was right back in the things, then threw it away. Needing just one more win to lock in a place in the field of 68, the Musketeers stuttered. At Providence they turned the ball over on 22% of their possessions and allowed 1.18 points per possession to a mediocre team. Back home against Butler, X again couldn't get the job done. This time it was shooting 26% behind the arc that did them in. That and inexplicably not challenging Kamar Baldwin, who buried a dagger at the buzzer to give the Bulldogs the win.
That was a backbreaker, but Xavier still had a chance. Most bracketologists agreed that a win over DePaul in the first round of the Big East tournament would be enough to at least land Xavier in the play-in games. Win another game and X was comfortable. Lose to DePaul and the Muskies were a coin toss. Xavier had won the regular season series over the Blue Demons by 23, so X fans felt at least reasonably secure. What happened in the chaotic final week of the season was somehow even more improbable than just losing to DePaul in a game that mattered.