On March 20th, 2022 Xavier played Florida. Jonas Hayes was going to be the head coach, Paul Scruggs was the senior captain, and Travis Steele had just been fired. The Musketeers had played an absolutely wretched game against Cleveland State that it appeared neither the team nor their fans were terribly interested in. It was the nadir of the current era of Xavier basketball.
Xavier is set to play Florida again tomorrow. Sean Miller is going to be the head coach, the team is senior laden, and no one (hopefully) is getting fired. The day before each game could hardly be different.
Remember back to the 19th of March (before the Miller announcement). In Xavier’s last game they had beaten CSU by four and scored one point per possession. Shortly after that game, the university had announced that they were parting ways with Travis Steele. Steele had coached a team that peaked in March and made a good run in the NIT his first season. He had shown no real sign of doing that again in the 21-22 season.
The game against the Vikings was a reflection of that. When I talked to fans in the student section about what they were looking forward to that day, two replied in unison “uhhhh.” Perhaps the next two paragraphs most succinctly summed it up:
Even then, the discontent was palpable. Booing continued pretty much the entire game. Some of it directed toward a refereeing crew led by the incompetent stylings of Tony Chiazza, some of it clearly directed at Travis Steele, and some just headed out in to the uncaring void.
The vibe, as the kids say, for the entire game was that of both a team and fanbase trying to determine exactly what they felt about what was taking place. Xavier’s incredibly slow start certainly helped with the lingering malaise in the arena. Even the more restrained fans were visibly unhappy with what was happening. It was hard to blame any of them.
That was the game before Florida. It was not a good one.
The game before Florida this season was an excellent performance against an excellent team. There was no booing, the fans were not discontent, malaise neither lingered or ever even started.
The day before Florida this year dawns with hope. Xavier isn’t playing as well as they did last October and November, but it’s hard to blame anyone who thinks this team will improve as the season goes along. Sean Miller has given the fans plenty of reason for optimism, as does the fact the Florida game coincides with the Thanksgiving meal. This team is deep in a way that last season’s wasn’t. The five seniors are looking for a March run, but not in the NIT.
It’s odd to play the same team in non-conference in back to back seasons. The circumstances in which Xavier takes on Florida could hardly be different. The Musketeers hammered Florida eight months ago. They may lose this time. Even of they do, things will remain better. The vibes will remain better. Things change a lot. It’s the day before Florida, but it doesn’t feel anything like the last one did.