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It all goes wrong: Takeaways from a resume scarring loss to DePaul

The more things change, the more they stay the same

NCAA Basketball: Xavier at DePaul
It was a tough night for Colby
Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports

On January 18th, 2022, Xavier was 18th in the KenPom rankings and 15th in the NET. They had a nice collection of Q1 one wins and they looked for all the world like they were steaming to a protected seed and an end to the tournament drought. The Musketeers were finally good again.

On January 18th, 2023, Xavier was once again 18th in the KenPom and 17th in the NET. They had solid Q1 wins and looked for all the world like their current hot streak would carry them to a protected seed and the end of a now four year tournament drought. Sean Miller was back and Xavier was finally good again.

Both of those teams ran into an aggressively mediocre DePaul team at Wintrust Arena. Only one had the intestinal fortitude to come up with a win. From a perch high atop college basketball and with a trip to the NCAA tournament a foregone conclusion, that team collapsed. It remains to be seen if the team that managed a worse result can do better the rest of the way.

Souley Boum is tired

The Banners staff has a group chat during the games and it didn’t take long for someone to note that Boum did not have much lift on his jumper. Souley came into the game averaging 35 minutes per contest and it looked like that caught up to him tonight. Twice he had chances late to score with a simple finger roll at the rim and twice he couldn’t get it over the front iron. He finished a horrid 1-12 from the floor and was essentially a non factor in the game.

Xavier’s guards can’t

No one that Xavier ran out at a guard spot today could stay in front of anyone. Boum and Adam Kunkel were the main parties at fault, but Des Claude got broken off and fell down. DePaul’s guards are decent, but they aren’t anything special. They torched Xavier tonight because they both realized they could run past their man at a moment’s notice. That put Xavier’s defense in rotation and left the three point line tumbleweed through an old west town kind of open.

The finishing was awful

Xavier was 12-29 at the rim. If that sounds familiar, it is because it is the same problem that plagued Xavier when they folded last season. No one, bar Adam Kunkel, was effective inside. Xavier’s hobbling off guard nearly had a hero turn at the end and went 4-5 from inside the arc. Only Zach Freemantle (7-12) joined him in shooting above 50% on two point field goals.

Xavier is no longer a great three point shooting team

X entered conference play making 44% of their three pointers. In conference that has dropped nearly eight full points to 36.7%. Souley Boum is the leading contributor to that decline, as he is only shooting 34.9% from behind the arc over the last eight games. That’s basically what CJ Wilcher shot in his time here or what Paul Scruggs did as a junior. Neither of them were considered an elite shooter. Whether it be fatigue or just defensive adjustments, something has cut the legs out from under Xavier behind the arc. Tonight they went 4-20. One wonders what Twitter would say if Travis Steele were coaching a team that did that.

This is a bad loss

The debate about good losses at the start of the season was idiotic. No loss is good. This one, though, is actually quite bad. A Q3 loss is resume poison come Selection Sunday. It won’t keep Xavier out unless they repeat last year’s plunge to the bubble, but you can bet it will cost them seed lines in any close decision.

Even Sean Miller has bad nights

Sean Miller is Xavier’s best ever coach, but he didn’t have it tonight. He couldn’t get his offense rolling, he couldn’t get DePaul’s to stop. With Souley Boum staggering through a 1-12 effort, Miller went outside his seven man rotation for three minutes from the human water break that is Kyky Tandy. Jerome Hunter was great but got slap happy. So did Colby Jones, who wasn’t great at all. Still, the bench wasn’t a factor. Even Xavier’s last play was an over the top toss to Jack Nunge, who was covered by 6-10 jack in the box Yor Anei. Last year Travis Steele had a bad game in Chicago. This year Sean Miller repeated the feat.

At least we aren’t UConn

The Huskies went down to Seton Hall in one of the most gutless, craven defeats you are ever likely to see. When they needed a bucket late, no one wanted the ball. Adama Sanogo is as tough, in Joel’s words, as room temperature butter. At team that was supposedly elite two weeks ago looked completely meek and spineless in accepting their fate in New Jersey. George Washington once did the same thing, it remains to be seen if UConn can bounce back as well as he did.

Final thoughts

Xavier hasn’t had a loss that bad according to KenPom since they lost to LBSU back on November 30th of 2014. Yes, that means the entire Travis Steele era never featured so bad an L. After squeaking past DePaul last season I wrote, “Xavier didn’t look good on the road against DePaul last night, but that doesn’t have to be a harbinger.” It turns out it was a harbinger. The Musketeers walked out that night 4-2 in the Big East and then promptly won four of the next 13. I don’t think that will happen to this year’s team, but there is no denying that there were troubling signs before tonight that came up to bite Xavier.

Now, it’s up to Sean Miller to fix this. Miller was calm during this game, not railing at his team too much. In no way was he simply rolling over, but I think his cool external demeanor was an attempt to allay the panic that was clearly settling in to his team. He is no stranger to games not going well or star players suddenly being very bad. These things happen. What will separate Sean Miller 2.0 from Travis Steele and this season from last will be what happens now.

Xavier will beat Georgetown almost simply because it would be harder not to at this point. The test will come on the road at UConn and on the road at Creighton next week. If this team goes 1-3 over this four game stretch it will be reasonable to think that maybe the same thing is happening again. This is why Sean Miller is here. He’s capable of fixing this. If he does, Xavier is still the burgeoning power we thought they were coming into tonight.