Look, none of us wanted to be here right now. It would be disingenuous to proclaim that making the NIT is some sort of accomplishment for which Xavier should be proud. It’s not. The players, coaches, staff, support staff, and fans all wanted something different. In that beautiful moment when Paul Scruggs rose above EJ Liddell, no one was thinking “oh good, now we might get to host an NIT game.”
But here we are. Xavier plays tonight against a Cleveland State team that they wouldn’t normally see outside a buy game. The Vikings are a solid low-major who had a season of regression after making the NCAA tournament last season. That means that neither team was hoping to be at this game. So, why should fans get excited for it? That follows.
Because we aren’t fair weather fans
It’s easy to cheer for Duke (assuming you don’t have a soul). They employ a whinging git who recruits dirty players that always make the tournament. The same goes for Kentucky, only substitute in some adjectives related to cheating. Cheering for Xavier isn’t like that. Sometimes Isaiah Philmore misses a layup in the Atlantic 10 tournament, Darnell Williams blows his knee out, Brian O’Connell calls Naji Marshall for a charge, or the coach leaves for Ohio State hours after promising he wouldn’t. Despite that, and despite what anyone thinks of the current coaching situation, this is the team you cheer for. They have a game tonight.
Because Paul Scruggs deserves to go out well
Paul Scruggs didn’t have the season he wanted to, but he’s been a stalwart at Xavier for the last five years. He doesn’t deserve for the last memory Xavier fans have of him to be a missed free throw and a despairing slap of the arm. (And trust me, we all want a reason to forget that.) Scruggs has more than earned a chance to go out to standing ovation from a fanbase that he has emptied the tank for on more than one occasion.
Because it’s still college basketball
I love college ball. I love it to the point that I take the first two days of the tournament off every year and have since the point I had a job. There is no better sport on earth. Again, this isn’t how this season should have ended, but it’s 60 degrees in March and there is more ball to watch.
Because Xavier might as well win
If you are going to accept a bid to the NIT, it’s because you have a reason. No one signs on to this tournament just on a whim. Xavier is here, they might as well go and win the thing. The list of winners of the NIT isn’t the rogues gallery you would think. Since 2000 Baylor, Texas, TCU, Ohio State, West Virginia, and Michigan have won it. That’s not a bad list to be on.
Because we might get Dayton
Dayton is the one seed in what is called, I kid you not, “The Upper Left Bracket.” Kudos to the NIT for dispensing with the silliness and just calling the brackets what everyone thinks of them as anyway. I guess. Any road, Xavier could meet Dayton to go to the NIT Final Four. That is the thing that Xavier fans should be desperately hoping for. Meet Dayton, beat Dayton, laugh.