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The Strange Duality of Xavier

The excitement of Xavier basketball is not tied up in the team that is actually playing basketball right now

NCAA Basketball: Cleveland State at Xavier Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

There is a palpable excitement around Xavier basketball right now. There was a massive press conference at the Cintas yesterday that was important enough to live stream. There have been breathless reports of meetings at steakhouses, of tracked flights, of reports of just who said what to whom and when. Twitter has exploded with reaction that has been almost positive. It’s nearly the end of March, and Xavier is making national headlines.

Weirdly, almost none of that has to do with Xavier’s actual basketball team which is, just in case you’ve forgotten, playing a national tournament semi-final on Tuesday. This isn’t just an outward facing critique, either. Since the 16th of March we have written 16 articles and recorded three podcasts. Four of those 19 pieces of media have been specifically about the Xavier Musketeers playing in the NIT.

This has been a weird March for Xavier fans. When it started the Musketeers just needed to beat St. John’s and Georgetown to go dancing. Then they just needed to beat Butler and probably Providence. Then, suddenly, the season that started so well and peaked so high was over. Only this time the Musketeers accepted an NIT bid. The excitement level for this could be measured by the count on two hands attendance at the Cintas for the Cleveland State game.

The day after that things changed, and drastically. Travis Steele was out as head coach. Before Xavier played again, Sean Miller (241 words in this article before I used his name) had been announced as head coach. Suddenly, there was an almost unbridled excitement for the program. The change was just as visible at the Cintas for the game against the Gators and the outpouring for Paul Scruggs when he went down was one of grateful sympathy.

Xavier has beaten Vanderbilt since then, but good luck finding any coverage of what exactly happened there or when Xavier will depart for NYC and Madison Square Garden. President Colleen Hanycz mentioned the “revenge tour” briefly yesterday, but if any Xavier fans can name the two teams across from X and St. Bonaventure in the NIT final four I’d be greatly surprised. (It’s Texas A&M and Washington St.)

There were tweets all day yesterday about how fans wish we could just start next season in mid-April or fast forward to November. The excitement for the return of Sean Miller is well merited and hard to avoid. Everyone should be hyped for the start of the second Miller Era. He’s the best basketball coach Xavier has ever had. Meanwhile, the players had practice to prepare for a game. The Musketeers are a team caught between a past mottled by failure and a future that seems packed with nothing but promise. In the present lingers an almost sheepish chance for the team to still win a national title.

This has been a weird March for Xavier fans.