Let’s take a moment and step back. Back from the cacophony of the Cintas, back from the constant derangement of Twitter, back from the immediacy of every moment. Let’s take a step back and really look at Xavier’s basketball season.
Here are the raw numbers: Xavier is #21 in the nation, #25 in the KenPom, #20 in the Torvik, #27 in WAB, #21 in NET, #19 in RPI, #25 in the Sagarin, and 28th in strength of record. The Musketeers are 36th in the nation in offensive efficiency, 38th in defensive efficiency, are 14-5 overall, and are 4-4 in the fourth best of the 32 conferences in the nation. All of this is inarguably good. If Xavier plugs along at this same pace, they are a sure thing for the tournament.
You wouldn’t know this by looking at any place Xavier fans congregate. There is an air of anger and unease in the fanbase that is palpable in person, on podcasts, and on the hellscape that is Twitter. Why? That requires a closer look.
For starters, Xavier Nation has too high an opinion of what this team should be. The last four seasons of Chris Mack’s tenure at X were the most successful in program history. Only two of those teams (2015-16, 2017-18) were significantly better than this one. His first team also finished in the KP top 20. Sean Miller’s Elite Eight team was also a KP top 20 squad. Beyond those four teams, Xavier has never put a team on the floor that was significantly metrically better than this one.
Unfortunately, it seems like fans have let those four years color their impression of what the team should be. Being consistently above 20th in KenPom (or NET or whatever your metric is) puts you in the range of Villanova, Duke, Gonzaga, and not many else. It is rarefied air. Defending national champion Baylor was 35th three years ago, Arizona was 94th, Kentucky was 29th and 49th in the last two seasons. Xavier is a high-major and unquestionably one of the top programs in the nation. Expecting them to be one of the true blue bloods is simply not reflective of reality.
The way the team has struggled is also conducive to anger. It isn’t that they are unable to stop other teams or turn the ball over too much. High scoring and slightly sloppy games are generally easier to watch and fans pining over needing just one stop is kind of the norm for basketball. Xavier isn’t struggling like that, though. What the Musketeers are doing is missing layups and wide open three pointers. The offense works, and works well, the players just aren’t executing. Watching Zach Freemantle miss a wide open layup or Nate Johnson shoot below 20% for four straight games is more than mildly infuriating. Watching Paul Scruggs over penetrate and force a shot when you know a better one is waiting can cause the blood pressure to rise.
Finally, the malaise of a two season streak of missing the NCAA tournament hangs over the team. Xavier doesn’t miss the tournament often. Fans are understandably frustrated with that. As soon as something, like a loss to an AP top 25 team at home, happens, the sceptre of those seasons of failure looms like the sword of Damocles.
This team is good. The way they lose is vexing. 14-5 (4-4) isn’t bad. If you want a team that can reasonably be expected to go undefeated, cheer for Gonzaga in their cupcake conference. If you want a team where entitlement rules the day and the fanbase doesn’t understand the occasional loss, please go cheer for Duke. If you just like cheering for the best team all the time, Baylor are your guys for this season.
This is Xavier, though. The Musketeers have fought their way up from mid-major to high-major and are now adjusting life in one of the best conferences in the nation. This isn’t the Atlantic 10 anymore, and it’s time for fans to stop acting like conference play should go that way. It sucks to lose, no one argues that, but acting like every game is a referendum on the program is, frankly, stupid. This is Xavier. They may finish the season with five or six more losses pre NCAA tournament and still have been successful. That’s the way it is.