That was not a good week for Xavier basketball. The Musketeers entered the week 17th in the KenPom, 18th in the NET, on an 11 game winning streak, and on the two seed line on the Bracket Matrix. They came out of the week 22nd, 25th, on a one game winning streak, and at the bottom of the three line. There is no world in which losing to DePaul and yawning your way past Georgetown is a good thing.
It’s also not the worst of things. This fanbase is undeniably shaped by the Travis Steele Era. Last season a Steele team that had been one of the best in the nation showed its first cracks on a road trip to DePaul (though they at least won that game). A month later that crack had turned into a hatchway caved in and Xavier was taking on massive amounts of water. The year before, Xavier was 11-2 in late January and went 2-6 the rest of the way. Even in the debatable season of 2020, the team’s decent 5-4 finish against tough competition was marred by losing three straight at the end.
All of that leads to a Xavier Nation that has adopted one of two strategies. The first group are the Miller Truthers. These people insist that Sean Miller is a vastly different coach than Travis Steele and that everything will be just fine. Based on some of the Twitter replies we have gotten from them, this group could likely be urinated on from on top of a tall building and use it as a chance to dance in the rain. They see no cracks here, celebrate every win, and are sure that this story will end happily regardless of any evidence presented.
Then there are the Scarred. This group sees disaster around every corner, especially when those corners feature the worst loss in nearly a decade and a lackluster win over the worse major conference team in the world. The sky isn’t just falling, it has already fallen and we just don’t know it yet. This will be the third straight year where Xavier wastes a good position and misses the tournament. Life is pain; it’s best to just embrace the inevitable.
The reality probably lies somewhere between those two outlooks. Sean Miller is a better coach than Travis Steele. This isn’t a knock on Travis Steele, Sean Miller is one of the best coaches in the nation right now. The faith that the fanbase has in him is well placed and has been rewarded in the past.
But even he isn’t immune from a wobble to end a season. The year that ended with Xavier losing to the loathsome Gonzaga Bulldogs featured the Musketeers crumbling to a 5-7 finish in the Atlantic 10 with losses to 125th ranked St. Louis twice and 131st ranked Dayton. It took winning the A10 tournament to get that team in the Big Dance.
And last week was very wobbly. Losing to 133rd ranked DePaul, who turned around and got pasted by Providence, is very, very bad. The Blue Demons are a bad basketball team that plays bad basketball. Serious contenders don’t lose games like that, even on the road. Xavier could have come back and sent a message by destroying Georgetown, but instead the Hoyas were within single digits with two minutes to play. Georgetown is horrible. Look around where you are now. Do you see four other people? Suit yourself and those four up and you can give the Hoyas a run. Xavier should have beaten them by nearly 20 (or more) like Loyola Marymount, Marquette, Seton Hall, Villanova, Syracuse, and Butler have. Instead, they scrapped for a really poor win. Only a fool would be truly happy with that.
Things don’t get easier from there. A team that suddenly finds layups challenging now goes on the road against Adama Sanogo, Donovan Clingan, and Ryan Kalkbrenner. Souley Boum is five of his last 18 behind the arc. He’s 2-9 against these teams so far this season. These are both Q1 games, where Xavier could use some help to bolster their resume. No reasonable person who watched Primo freaking Spears channel Allen Iverson can feel good about the trash fire that is Xavier’s defense right now. The ninth and 29th best offenses in the nation await.
But Sean Miller also has previous in correcting wobbles. Remember his last season at Xavier? That team ripped off 10 in a row (after getting embarrassed by Duke) in a run that carried into early February. Then they lost three of four to Duquesne, Dayton, and a really bad Charlotte team. There was another loss to Richmond along the way, but Xavier finished 12-4 in the A10 and made the Sweet 16. They may have never regained the form they flashed, but they beat Wisconsin by 11 in the NCAA tournament.
It’s hard to say where this season is going at this point. Last week was bad. This week is brutal. If Xavier wins one of them it could reasonably be success. The Musketeers will lose both if they play like they did against Georgetown. They could win both if they play like they did against Marquette. Maybe you think Sean Miller will cure all ills. Maybe you are still looking over your shoulder after the last two years. How you think this season looks right now probably comes down to what you think of this rain we’re dancing in right now.