David West isn’t walking through that door. We’ve all been eagerly awaiting the moment when Thad Matta, supposedly the latest in a long string of successful Xavier coaches, would have his own players in and ready to go. Well, Matta is off Skip Prosser’s apron strings now, and these guys have torpedoed a season. Xavier’s chances of making the NCAA tournament are hanging on a win over Alabama and... Louisiana Lafayette? Pull back those requests for time off in March and get ready for spring training.
As you are all aware, it’s the start of February, 2004. On Tuesday, Xavier is playing #10 UC in the Crosstown Shootout. The Bearcats are 15-2 and hammered the Dayton team that just beat Xavier. What had been a semi-promising season has derailed in a ball of fire and losses in five of six games. The Musketeers are 10-9, 2-5 in the conference, and not even within seeing distance of the bubble. Barring the miraculous this season is done.
It started on a cold night in Pittsburgh. The Duquesne Dukes are bad this year, but for 40 minutes they were just good enough to beat Xavier... by 13. That’s inexcusable. Matta has a lot of questions to answer about why his team utterly lost the plot. X shot 38.3% from the floor. Romain Sato and Lionel Chalmers, who is still crippled by turnover problem, accounted for 39 of the Musketeers 58 points. I’m sure other players played, but there’s precious little evidence of that.
Maybe the loss to Saint Joe’s, an Atlantic 10 team surely set up to take on the big guys from the ACC and Big East, is to be expected. Beating horrific La Salle falls into that category as well. The next three straight losses have doomed this team. They can’t shoot, and it’s clear that is the coaching staff’s fault, they turn the ball over too much, and can’t get on the offensive glass.
Losing to George Washington is one thing. Being humiliated by 21 is inexplicable. Sato scored nine and couldn’t get a thing to drop. Anthony Myles, the player supposedly stepping into West’s shoes? He was a no show. It’s hard to imagine he’d ever have a good game against a big front line if he can’t handle Pops Mensah-Bonsu.
Surely a bounce back in the first of two straight massive rivalry games was to expected. Nope. X went to the UD Arena and somnambulated through their fifth loss in six games. The problems were the same as always. Too many threes, five of Xavier’s last six shots were missed threes, too many missed free throws late (do these guys even practice them when they are tired?), and too many turnovers from a senior point guard.
Ultimately, this obviously has to be on the coach. It’s his fault wide open threes aren’t falling, he’s the one who recruited Justin Doellman and Justin Cage, he’s the one letting Chalmers play even when he turns the ball over. Why can’t Dedrick Finn start every game? Where is Brandon Cole? No offensive identity, inconsistent play, and they can’t get any big wins. It’s win or get out time for Matta.
We all know what happened after this. Shockingly, the unwashed masses were wrong. Lionel Chalmers, a senior guard who had been struggling with turnovers, faded away in the lane and Xavier went to 11-9. Somehow, the team went 16-1 and lost to Duke in the Elite Eight (and somehow Duquesne again). Had Twitter existed back then, people would have written this season off long before that in misspelled and basketball stupid takes. Feel free to see examples in our mentions. 21st in the KenPom and 14-4 is good. R E L A X.