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Xavier 63-64 Villanova: Takeaways as Xavier throws the ball, and eventually the game, to the Wildcats

The Musketeers were their own worst enemy in a game they had control of but let slip away.

NCAA Basketball: Villanova at Xavier
Not the look you want
Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Oh my. I had been assured by many that slumping in February was solely the fault of the coach. As it turns out, winning games at closing time in one of the best conferences in the world with a roster that isn’t loaded with five stars is kind of hard.

It gets even harder when you insist on throwing the ball to the wrong team. Xavier had 14 turnovers tonight, which isn’t a ton. When you only have 63 possessions, though, wasting 14 of them is a problem. The Musketeers just couldn’t get right against Villanova’s defense tonight. Nova didn’t press the ball or run some exotic scheme, they just sat back and waited for X to throw them the ball. For whatever reason, that worked.

Xavier isn’t in trouble and they aren’t going to miss the tournament. What they are doing is wasting their chance at a protected seed and risking dropping down seed lines until they get a matchup against a team that can exploit their weaknesses. Winning in February is hard. It’s hard when Travis Steele is the coach, it’s hard when Sean Miller is the coach. Until Xavier becomes a conveyor belt of top 100 recruits, they’ll have to find ways to win. Tonight they didn’t.

Everyone is tired

Fatigue can come out both physically and mentally. Physically it could mean Colby Jones going 2-10 from the floor and 0-5 behind the arc. Mentally it could mean Des Claude committing three turnovers or Adam Kunkel committing one genuinely befuddling one. Perhaps it could mean Souley Boum driving into an absolute crowd with seven seconds left and Des Claude wide open. (A note: it looked like the play was set to go to the other side where Adam Kunkel would have been the shooter.) The Musketeers are gassed. Kyky Tandy hasn’t been effective and is hurt. Cesare Edwards got schooled again tonight. Xavier gets a break from Friday to Wednesday. Hopefully they can use it for some rest.

Zach Freemantle isn’t walking through that door

I mean, he might, but he won’t represent a panacea for all of Xavier’s ills. Even if, and it’s a big if, Freemantle comes back this season, he isn’t coming back ready to play 30 minutes per game. He would lengthen the rotation and give Jack Nunge a chance to get some rest, but Xavier has to figure out how to make this extremely short rotation work.

Xavier’s faults have been consistent and will kill them

Xavier is 3-4 when they turn the ball over more than 21% of the time. The three wins are against Fairfield, Southern, and Morgan St. When Xavier turns the ball over 20% of the time or more against real teams they are 2-4. In the 11 games when Xavier allows a point per possession or less on defense they are 10-1. When they allow more than that, they are 10-7. That’s a point per possession. That’s not the highest of bars to clear. The only teams in the Big East who allow more than are DePaul and Georgetown. If you average that for the season you are 82nd in the nation. Just being sort of ok on defense would make X elite. They aren’t. Shooting 71% from the line won’t help either.

Adam Kunkel didn’t travel

The lead official, the one who should be making the primary call there, signaled for a foul which would have been an and one. The trail ref, at half court, called a travel. He couldn’t see the play, but no reason to let that be a factor when you could be the man of the hour. For what it is worth, the “travel” on Dixon two possessions later was possibly technically correct, but could be called on literally every post possession and was an equally stupid application of the rules.

Speaking of stupid, kicking a leg out to get a call is now a violation. Despite that being the rule and the lead official once again getting it correct, Des Claude was called for a foul when Caleb Daniels kicked him directly in the wedding vegetables. We might be better off just going with call your own next year. It always works at the Y except for the times it leads to fights.

Tough sledding from here

Xavier has to go to Seton Hall and to Providence before they get Butler at home. They are looking at once again staggering into the Big East Tournament. Win one of those road games and things feel much, much better if they can close the regular season with a win. Tonight Xavier threw away a game they should have won. This season, like last, is poised on the edge of being thrown away after a great start. Something needs to change before X takes the floor again.