What, for you, was the first moment where it really felt like Xavier was part of the Big East? When you looked out onto the court or into your TV and it really resonated that we weren't in the A10 anymore?
Because none of your are chiming in because that's not the way this medium works, I'll just go ahead and tell you mine: home to Georgetown, January 15, 2014. Georgetown was, in my mind, the program in the Big East most emblematic of what the league was. They were bullies in dark gray, the school of Zo and Ewing. They were John Thompson, Jr. rocking the towel and prowling the sideline. By 2014 they were down from their peak, but college basketball fans my age expect Georgetown to be Georgetown.
To that point in Big East play, X had taken on an okay St. John's team, fellow conference newcomers Butler and Creighton, and an uninspiring Marquette squad.
Georgetown felt like a real Big East game against a real Big East program.
It didn't go well right away. X was down 13 at halftime, and by 5 minutes in the deficit ballooned to 17. Then a switch was flipped, and Xavier ripped off 44 of the game's last 58 points. By the time Myles Davis gave Xavier the lead with a three from the wing, the roof had been ready to come off of Cintas for what seemed like an eternity. The Muskies managed to not only overturn the lead but win comfortably in the end.
Fast forward almost exactly 8 years and Georgetown is floundering. After seven single-digit seeds in eight years leading up to 2014, they've made the tournament just twice since, and only once with a resume strong enough for at-large contention. Last night, they got clubbed on their own home court by a not very good Butler team. Last year, it took a sporting miracle for them to make the tournament. This year, it might take a literal, biblical miracle to get them there.
On the Xavier sideline that night in 2014 was Chris Mack. Just 44 years old, he had taken Xavier to three tournaments in his first four years in charge and was piloting the team from the A10 to the Big East. He was seen as a rising young star in coaching; it was a foregone conclusion that eventually some lucky blue blood would poach him from Xavier.
That program turned out to be Louisville, who are paying Mack in the neighborhood of $4 million a year to coach their program. Two nights ago, his team was run off its home court by KenPom #105 NC State. They're not as far adrift of at-large consideration as Georgetown is, but they're not where they paying Coach Mack almost $30 million over 7 years to take them. He has consistently cut a beleaguered and haggard figure in press conferences as the ship goes down with him at the helm.
Xavier has, somehow, been the only party to come out of that game unscathed. Eight years on, they've established themselves as a consistent top-tier team in the Big East. Behind Travis Steele, they're currently a top-20 team and on track to make the tournament for the first time since Mack left. Georgetown's fate shows that no program is more than one bad hire from a nosedive. Mack's shows that no coach is bulletproof. There are no sure things, and momentum can evaporate as quickly as it coalesced.
It's hard to say what the point of this post was. Maybe it's part of an answer to the people telling me after the Nova game that X should have kept Mack, as though his teams were consistently dominating the Wildcats. More likely, it's a rumination on what happened to the program that faced Xavier in our first all-caps BIG EAST game.
Tomorrow, X takes on Creighton, the next and first step in the eternal process of being relevant in college basketball.