In the presser before Xavier headed to New York for their scheduled game against St. John's, Coach Steele dropped a couple of nuggets of information that illuminate where Xavier is right now. Less profoundly, he told the assembled members of the press that the only way to get better at basketball is to practice basketball and play basketball games. Sure.
He then went on to say that he can count on one hand the number of times Xavier has practiced since the last time they played St. John's.
That was January 6th. One month and ten days later, Xavier will take on the Johnnies again, having played three times and practiced no more than five. In 41 days, Xavier has been together no more than 8 times.
Rewind to November. Xavier opened the season with 3 games in 50 hours. It wasn't always pretty, but X left that gauntlet with a 3-0 record and a huge step towards tournament eligibility. For a long time, Xavier was the team with the most games played in the entire nation.
Of course, it always comes time to pay the piper with Covid, and the cost of playing a lot of games early has (apparently) been losing a lot of games late on. It's now the middle of February and Xavier has played 7 conference games, 3 fewer than any other member of the Big East.
The frontloaded schedule already has Xavier eligible for the NCAA tournament. I think it was a good decision by the Muskies to play as many games as early as possible, and it's not clear they'd be getting any more games in now if they had executed the early part of the season differently.
What is clear is that Xavier is missing practice time at a vital point in the season. When other teams are getting the instruction and game reps needed to make progress, Xavier has been left trying to just hold onto what they had when the calendar turned.
When Xavier takes on St. John's tomorrow, the schedule will reflect a rematch between two teams that have already played. St. John's will have had nearly 6 weeks of mostly uninterrupted ball to grow from then; Xavier will, at best, be the same team. It's a tough mountain for these guys to climb, but it's a tough year to be trying to put together a season.
Travis Steele said showing up and competing is what Xavier does. That might be the only thing they have to fall back on during a tough stretch ahead.