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Xavier’s lackluster start is (probably) no big deal

No doubt the Muskies could have been better, but it could have been a whole lot worse.

Syndication: The Enquirer Kareem Elgazzar/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK

Let’s get this out of the way early on, just so there’s no confusion: Xavier did not look good on Tuesday. In fumbling through a game against a team squarely in the mid-200s in most analytic rankings, in shooting 8-27 from three despite starting 4-5, in needing to seal the game from the line late on, and in 100 different facets clear to anyone who watched the game or knows how to look up the box score, the looked a lot less like the well-oiled machine we were hoping would come out of the summer.


Xavier dropped 5 spots in Bart Torvik’s rankings after that performance. Providence dropped by 9 after edging Fairfield in a game they led by a single bucket with 10 minutes left. Houston dropped by 8 after needing a furious comeback to force OT against a bad Hofstra team. Arkansas suffered a similar drop after needing a double-digit comeback to beat a similarly bad Mercer squad.

Speaking of double-digits, Rutgers - a team with bubble aspirations - dropped by 11 after needing OT to beat Lehigh. Clemson did the same after scrambling to victory against Presbyterian in a game they trailed by 10 in the second half. Richmond needed to close hard to beat a sincerely poor NC Central team that had it within 4 inside the under-8. Creighton took on an Arkansas Pine Bluff team that has a real case for being the worst in D-1; the Bluejays trailed by 13 in the second half before storming back to win.

Worse than playing badly and winning is playing badly and losing. Enter Nebraska, who lost to Western Illinois despite CJ Wilcher going 2-4 from deep. UNI lost to Nichols State - they were down 13 with 2:52 to play and couldn’t recover the whole margin. Utah State lost to UC Davis. Virginia lost to Navy by 8.

The Pac-12 takes the crown though. Washington took on KenPom #326 Northern Illinois. They trailed by 16 in the first half, came all the way back to take the lead with under 5 minutes to play, then immediately and hilariously surrendered a 15-2 run. Cal was arguably less impressive against KenPom #292 UC San Diego. The Bears led by 9 at the under-4 in the first half, then just kind of faded out of the game. UC SD methodically crawled back in over the next 10 minutes, put on an 11-0 run to break the game open, and were never seriously threatened again. It’s a pattern we see play out in a lot of buy games, but it’s almost never the team cashing the check who is also strolling to victory.

More importantly, Xavier is 1-0. Every team listed above came into the season harboring expectations - or at least hopes - of challenging for at-large inclusion in March. None of the opponents they played are supposed to be part of that conversation at all. Buy games are for knocking off the rust, not building a resume. If they’re being mentioned on Selection Sunday, it’s because you messed them up in a horrible fashion. By the time March rolls around, the only thing that will matter about Tuesday’s game is that it didn’t take X to 0-1 in Q4 games.

A lot of teams underperformed in their first times out. Travis Steele and his squad have the luxury of picking through the wreckage while sporting an unblemished record. Nobody was impressed by the process; eventually the result will be all that matters.