By Matt Norlander
Has anything gone right for Xavier since around 1:50 p.m. on Dec. 10? In the dead of the night, while you were sleeping and getting in as much rest before your Christmas Eve festivities, the Musketeers got knocked off in overtime, 84-82, by 6-5 Hawaii. Prior to last night, Hawaii hadn't beat a team ranked higher than 297 in KenPom's system. Xavier was once 8-0 and looking Final Four-caliber. Now does anyone have any idea what's happening?
It's bizarre. Only Dezmine Wells was missing from last night's game for X, still serving his four-game suspension for his involvement in the brouhaha with Cincinnati. Tu Holloway scored 26, Mark Lyons had 18. X was better on the boards, forced more turnovers and hit nine 3s to Hawaii's four. But it still lost. It still can't correct itself in the wake of college basketball's ugliest moment this season.
I've said before I would try my best to never schedule my team between Dec. 22 and Dec. 26 due to the holidays and all distraction/homesickness that comes with it, but Xavier's problems have little to do with being preoccupied by Christmas -- they'll be playing on Dec. 25 as is, only in the lowest-tiered bracket of the Diamond Head Classic. The game will be against 3-6 Southern Illinois. This is a tournament Xavier should have won; it's really something to see how everything's changed in the past two weeks.
This team is spiraling down right now, obviously. It's a turn of events no one saw coming. The power of punches and the side effects have led to three straight losses and certainly damaged this time psychologically. The last time the program lost three in a row was early in the 2004-05 season, which was Sean Miller's first year as Muskies head man.
Can you get healthy off of Southern Illinois? I don't know, but Gonzaga comes next, on New Year's Eve, and the Bulldogs will be ready and awaiting the challenge -- if it ends up being that. The good news is X gets that game at home.
I can't call it karma -- Cincy was just as at fault for the fight, and it's averaged 96 points in four straight wins since the brawl -- but in no way did I think Xavier would fall apart like this. You didn't, either. Seasons can get away from teams fast in college basketball. We've seen many examples of promising starts spin out into NIT bids. I don't think Xavier's hurtling toward that inferior tournament, but I do think a team that claimed to be proud, brash, unwilling to back down to anyone has looked rattled and intimidated for the past two weeks.
"Zip 'em up" was first a Xavier tough-guy motto. Then it became a point of criticism. Now it's a mocking call.