The days between Marquette and DePaul this February were fraught. Xavier had lost two in a row on almost exactly the same days they did last February and, yes, the year before that. For two straight years the worst month of the year had risen up and bitten the Musketeers and it would take the truly nerveless to not have wondered during that stretch if maybe it was happening again. Then Xavier came out and obliterated DePaul. Maybe everything would be ok.
In 2020 it wasn’t February that got Xavier, it was a stumble right at the start of March. We’ll never know how that would have ended thanks to a global pandemic. The two Februarys after that, well, they went like this.
Xavier missed the start of the month with a Covid pause that meant an 11-2 team went 14 days without playing. They then came out and lost back to back games against UConn and then a stridently mediocre St. John’s. Wins against Butler and Creighton couldn’t overcome those two losses and another hammering by a bad Providence team. Xavier then lost three straight in March to complete a 2-6 stretch to cap the season. There’s some grace to be given here, because Covid messed things all up, but this season ended with Xavier not playing any postseason basketball.
This was the month that cost Travis Steele his job. Xavier entered February last season 22nd in the KP and 18th in the NET. They staggered into March 53rd in KenPom and 36th in the NET. That represented an almost incomprehensible drop from a lock to the wrong side of the bubble.
X beat Butler to start the month, then dropped games to DePaul and Seton Hall by a grand total of six points. Not ideal, but it happens. The Musketeers then seemed to self-arrest by beating UConn in a home game. At that point they were still a solid tournament team and looking good.
Then the wheels came off. Xavier got pounded by 13 by St. John’s at home, then turned around and took an 11 point beating at Gampel. The moment to save the season seemed to be a three overtime game at Providence. Adam Kunkel scored 20, but a leaky roof and a leaky defense meant that the Friars finally won after 55 minutes of basketball. Suddenly, Xavier had lost four of five. They wouldn’t ever recover and finished the month having gone 1-5. On more regular season loss completed the collapse.
Xavier wasn’t stellar in February, but they held serve. Even with Zach Freemantle hurt the Musketeers managed to go 4-3. Once again there was a two game losing streak, but this time it didn’t spiral into more. Each time Xavier looked to be just hanging on, they won. Instead of crumbling, they toughened up and got the wins they needed. In fact, only the Butler loss really jumps off the page as particularly bad.
And that brings us to here, on the precipice of March. Xavier has two regular season games and the Big East tournament left before Selection Sunday. With a 4-3 February behind them, the only question is when their name will be called.