In just over four days, you will know what this season means to Xavier. In 106 hours, a scant 1.2% of the year, Xavier’s fate will have been sealed for the good or bad. Selection Sunday looms as either a open gate to the greatest event in sports, or a judgment day that will leave the Musketeers found wanting.
Xavier could have played themselves into a position where this week didn’t matter. These 106 hours before the announcement of the brackets would have served as an amuse bouche of high stakes basketball and the fun of March. Indeed, the first half of this week has been an incredible buffet of great games and little guys that will get to go dancing. Only the cruel removal of fans in the stands has blunted at all the joy that Cleveland State, Mount St. Mary’s, and Drexel must all feel right now.
Xavier didn’t play themselves to that point. These upcoming games, starting today at 6pm very much matter. Just the word “games” is loaded with portent. If Xavier only plays once this week, their wait on Sunday will be that of the doomed. A reprieve will not come. But there is also a lot of hope in “games.” Xavier still, however improbably, controls their own fate. Four wins in four days and no one can deny them a spot. Three wins means two high level victories and a clear answer to whether they merit a spot. Even two wins likely means Sunday ends in celebration. One? Let’s not ponder that for now.
The fact that Xavier can win their way in, in a sense, means that the run to Madison Square Garden can be relegated to the opening part of the narrative. After all, the 9-9 conference season in 2016-17 isn’t what people remember. The six game losing streak serves only to set the table for Sean O’Mara’s demolition of Maryland, Trevon Bluiett’s 29 against Florida St., and Malcolm Bernard’s joyous sprint.
Tre won’t get healthy to help this team shake off the doldrums, but maybe Jason Carter will. Maybe Kyky Tandy finally gets the playing time he’s wanted and explodes onto the national scene. Maybe CJ Wilcher’s 10 against Marquette was a coming out party, or Colby Jones refinds his legs and his jumper, or the other uber talented freshman, Dwon Odom, defends and dunks his way into lore. Maybe Travis Steele gameplans like a genius. Maybe Paul Scruggs becomes a legend.
Anything can happen. It’s March. Starting in 10 hours it is time to abandon reason and hope. The weather is warming. A pandemic is finally receding. Xavier is playing elimination games in the best conference tournament there has ever been. Hope.