Despite Xavier’s struggles, they still had a chance if they could just put wins together when it mattered.
The first part of the season in review discussed Xavier entering this season with heightened expectations based on a good recruiting class, a strong returning nucleus, and a coach with more experience. While the Musketeers will never know how the 2019-20 season would have officially ended, it gave them reason to believe that this year would be better. You can read that article here.
In the second part we looked at Xavier’s 8-1 start and the hot shooting that inspired it. With Nate Johnson on fire, the Musketeers hit Christmas ranked and having dispatched Cincinnati and Oklahoma in back to games with a combination of toughness and cutthroat efficiency on offense. The first Covid break had hardly slowed the team as they came out of it with Adam Kunkel calling game. You can read about those halcyon days here.
The third part of the season review dealt with Xavier’s nearly complete collapse. If you want to remember how quickly things can go from good to very bad, start here.
Xavier’s home win over Butler was nice, but it impressed no one. That left Xavier need something from their final four games in order to make the NCAA tournament. An away game at Providence and a home contest with Creighton were both chances to grab high level wins and boost Xavier’s thin resume. The win over Oklahoma kept coming good, as did the one over Toledo. Beyond that, Xavier had precious little on which to stake their hopes for a bid.
Xavier played that first crucial game as if they had already given up. Paul Scruggs and Zach Freemantle combined to score 46, the rest of the team combined for 22. Something called a Noah Horchler torched a Xavier team that evidently had spent no time scouting the Friars. Instead of battling for a win they desperately needed in order to stay in the bubble conversation, the Musketeers got run off the court. Xavier had a win probability of 45% to start the game and then watched that number drop the entire game. At no point was this one a contest.
Back home at the Cintas Xavier would need to turn in a much better effort against Creighton to even have a chance. Against almost all odds, they did. The Musketeers put together 14-1 and 10-0 runs as Travis Steele set up his best game plan of the season. Xavier kept Creighton from getting out in transition and, by extension, kept their offense from ever getting rolling. The Musketeers themselves scored 1.12 points per possession and picked up an absolutely vital Q1 win. Suddenly, Xavier was back in the hunt.
A Q1 tilt against a suddenly hot Georgetown Hoyas team was next. Xavier fell behind by as much as 18 in the second half before storming back into the game. Xavier’s youngsters led the charge as Kyky Tandy flickered across the night sky to score 14. Colby Jones and CJ Wilcher were both also instrumental in a comeback that saw X cut the lead all the way to three before finally coming apart under pressure. After conceding the first 32 minutes, Xavier’s eight minute rally wasn’t enough.
From there Xavier simply folded. We could spill virtual ink on losses to Marquette and Butler to end the season, but they were painful enough the first time. The Musketeers had a 2% chance of being selected for the tournament and, come Selection Sunday, that miracle didn’t happen. Xavier turned down a bid to the NIT under the guise of getting more practice time in. More likely, the team was simply done with the season and not interested in playing consolation games where wins meant little and the likelihood of injury remained the same. Xavier was done. The season was an unequivocal failure.
But that wasn’t quite the end of the story. CJ Wilcher left the team after his last season surge in order to join basketball power… Nebraska. That disappointment was followed by the nailed on departure of Kyky Tandy. But then Nate Johnson said he was coming back. And then Paul Scruggs announced he was coming back. And then, in a complete shock, Kyky Tandy took his name out of the transfer portal. For all the depression of the way the season ended, an amazing NCAA tournament and good news on the returnees front cast some optimism for next year.
Maybe this year will be better than the last.