Xavier is supposed to return tomorrow after a Covid pause of 17 days. I say supposed to because there are no guarantees right now. I say Covid pause because a phrase that would have sounded like nonsense to our ears just two years ago is now part of the vernacular. As of now the game is, blessedly, still scheduled to be played.
This isn’t the first time that X has missed time because of Covid, but the circumstances are not the same this time. The first Covid pause, as it were, was the end of the 2019-20 season. That season paused, definitely before the Big East tournament, and never came back. Xavier won their first game after that pause, but it was eight months later, so there probably isn’t much to be gleaned there.
Xavier also went on pause twice last year. In a stretch that spanned over a month from the 10th of January to the 13th of February, the Musketeers played exactly one game and practiced together less than ten times. That stretch was a little different than this one.
Last season Xavier was shut down because of Covid positives within their own program. That, in the heightened times of early 2021, meant no contact with each other, no workouts, no practice, nothing. Colby Jones drained a game winning three against Providence, thumped his chest, pointed to the sky, and then vanished into the January ether along with the rest of the team. Even Xavier’s return game against Butler was bumped back a day.
Xavier came back for that Butler game and actually managed to look pretty good. The offense looked rusty but the defense was excellent, Travis Steele used the whole bench, and X beat a pretty bad Butler team by 12. The Musketeers were back! And then they weren’t.
Exactly one day later, Xavier was canceled again. The Musketeers didn’t play again until UConn at home. Which they lost. Then came St. John’s away. They lost. All in all, Xavier’s promising season vanished in that long stretch in January and February where X played just once. A season that was destined for an easy NCAA tournament bid after 13 games ended with six losses in the last eight games. The Musketeers came back from Covid, but not with any sort of rhythm. The season immolated.
And that brings us to now. Xavier hasn’t played in 17 days, nearly as long as their layoff before playing Butler last season. Once again, Xavier plays Butler when they return. Much like last year, Butler has been playing while Xavier sat. Much like last year, Butler isn’t very good. Much like last year, beating Butler and then losing six of eight will doom Xavier’s season.
The difference between now and then is that this time Xavier has been practicing. The Musketeers have, somehow, avoided any positive tests. How that is happening when it seems like half the world is positive is beyond reckoning, but hopefully they keep it up. The fact that the team can scrimmage, walk through, run, work out, and shoot means they will at least not look like they have forgotten what a basketball is in this layoff. Still, there is no shape like game shape. Xavier hasn’t played in 17 days, Butler played Tuesday. This particular dose of resume poison is warmed and ready.
Xavier is once again on a long Covid pause. The circumstances have both changed and remained generally the same. The season is off to a great start and Butler is the opponent. It’s on Travis Steele and his charges to make sure that 2022 doesn’t derail like last year did.