Oh, the difference between January 30th, 2022 and January 30th, 2023. Not only is the NFL playoff picture very different (welcome to the offseason Bengals fans, we in Cleveland have been here since mid-November), so is that of the Xavier Musketeers.
Last year Xavier was also just returning from a trip to a very good Creighton. Same as this year, that game was dead and buried at halftime. Xavier was down 17 and couldn’t do anything right. They were, for the love of everything holy, 5-14 at the rim in that half. That team had also struggled away at DePaul and then failed to convince.
Except that team didn’t simply fade away in the second half without ever making it a contest. Instead the Musketeers went on a 29-2 run, quieted a raucous crowd, held to Creighton to 0-8 from the floor with seven turnovers in the decisive stretch, and picked up a massive road win. That pushed X to 19th in the NET and 22nd in the KenPom. The defense had just held the Bluejays to under .94 points per possession. Xavier was 4-5 in Q1 and had a resume that looked about bulletproof. The Musketeers won their next game as well. They looked very, very good. Then, they went 2-8.
This season Xavier also just went to Creighton. This time the game was essentially done at 42-28. This time, Xavier didn’t go on a historic run after a rousing halftime where Travis Steele reminded the team to play like they knew how to. Adam Kunkel raged against the dying of the light, but the Musketeers rather meekly accepted the loss. By the end of the game we had been reminded that Kam Craft existed and Xavier had finished a four game stretch in which they had played well once by going 2-2, throwing on a Q3 loss, and getting hammered by an admittedly great Creighton squad.
Simply factually speaking, Xavier’s resume was better at this time last year than it is this year. There is no denying at this point that Xavier has, at least, stumbled a bit in the last couple weeks. Whether that is the full swoon of last season that carried them from a lock for the tournament to 53rd in the KenPom and completely out remains to be seen. It would be absolutely shocking if it did.
The Musketeers feel like they are at something of a crossroads right now. Win two this week and they guarantee a winning season in the Big East, add another win right on the cusp of Q1, and dispel the thoughts of last season. It will come down to whether this team can defend at all. If they do, they’ll be just fine. If they don’t, we’ll get more shots of the team on the sideline looking forlorn.
Last season Joel wrote of a 15-5 team, “With hard work ahead, Xavier has to stay focused and come away from this week with two wins.” They same holds true of the 17-5 team this year. There is no magic guarantee that having Sean Miller means everything will be ok. It’s time for things to actually start being ok. It’s winning time now.