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A series of false dawns

Xavier basketball has had some good performances this year, but momentum has been impossible to come by.

Syndication: The Enquirer Albert Cesare/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK

Tolstoy wrote in Anna Karenina, "every happy family is alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." I don't know if that's true because I've never actually read the book, nor have I met a representative sample of families, but it doesn't matter in this case. If Tolstoy were writing for our website, he might have repurposed that same energy to write, "every good performance by Xavier is alike; every bad one is bad in its own way."

In case you've forgotten - and judging by the general energy of the fanbase right now, many of us have - Xavier has played well at times this season. They've won 17 games, including 5 in Q1 and another 4 in Q2. If the tournament started today, they'd certainly be in.

In those games, Xavier has presented well. They've played with good energy, showing consistent commitment on the glass and on defense. They've shot just well enough to make teams defend them more than 15 feet from the bucket, and they've used that space to feast on buckets in the paint. Paul Scruggs had been a steady hand at the till, and the team has followed his lead. In other words, they've looked like a good basketball team.

There are a lot of ways to be bad at basketball, though, and Xavier has set out exploring them in their 11 losses this season. You want a complete lack of defense? They've allowed 1.17 PPP or more in three of their last four losses. Looking for something a little more nuanced? They held Seton Hall to 41% shooting in their first meeting but allowed an OReb% of 41.5%. Into self-immolation? They held Nova to their worst EFG% of the year but managed to shoot 18-55 (32.7%) to lose a close one.

Perhaps most frustratingly, every time it has looked like they were building momentum, the rug has been ripped from under them. They hit conference play 10-1 and then thumped a good Marquette squad, then they lost to Nova and had to wait almost three weeks for another game due to covid in other teams. They stormed by Creighton behind a monstrous second half, then needed a last-second stop to beat DePaul before losing two straight. They outplayed Seton Hall in the second half of a close loss and rode that energy past UConn, then turned around and got run off the Cintas floor by St. John's.

Most recently, they had a shot in the air to win at Providence before ultimately losing in three overtimes to the eventual conference champs. They then translated that to absolutely nothing home to Seton Hall, getting thoroughly punked in a game that had boos raining down from the portions of the home crowd that had bothered to stay.

So many times, fans have been able to point to a performance and say, "if that team shows up next game, we're cruising," only to have that team go missing from the opening tip.

Now X has two winnable must-win games between them and the Big East tournament. Is there anything they could put together this week that would convince you that the corner has finally be turned? That this team is finally for real? The clock is ticking on a squad that is trying to arrest the same kind of slide that has doomed them the past two years. If they can't put it together now, they won't get another chance to.