Whatever the reason, Xavier teams have fared about as well at holiday tournaments the past few seasons as Charlie Brown does kicking Lucy's football.
In appearances at the Old Spice Classic, Paradise Jam, Diamond Head Classic, Anaheim Classic and Battle 4 Atlantis the past five seasons, Xavier has amassed a 5-8 record and has finished better than fifth only once. Losses against teams like Marquette or Baylor were excusable. Losses against Hawaii, Pacific and Old Dominion were a bit more perplexing.
The latest holiday tournament meltdown came this past weekend in the Bahamas when the previously unbeaten Musketeers dropped three straight games to finish last in the Battle 4 Atlantis.
First came a respectable overtime loss against Iowa in which Xavier fought hard even after losing star Semaj Christon to cramping but could not hold a 15-point second-half lead. Next was a deflating 15-point loss to a Tennessee team the Musketeers had already beaten earlier in November. And finally there was Saturday's punch to the gut, a stunning 84-78 loss to a rebuilding USC team headed for a bottom-tier finish in the Pac-12 this season.
Previous Xavier teams have recovered from poor holiday tournaments to reach three NCAA tournaments and make Sweet 16 appearances in 2010 and 2012, but this season's team is certainly no shoo-in to make such a run. Though the Musketeers are much deeper than last year's undermanned team that overachieved to win 17 games, they're still not talented enough to overcome stretches of youthful mistakes and erratic play against good teams.
It's difficult to pinpoint exactly what happened in the Bahamas because the problems were different each day.
Against Iowa, Xavier turned the ball over too many times against a pressure defense and struggled to find consistent scoring options when Christon left the floor with cramps and when Matt Stainbrook fouled out in overtime.
Against Tennessee, Xavier came out flat 15 hours removed from the Iowa loss, surrendered too many offensive rebounds and got a poor scoring performance from Christon and the rest of the backcourt.
And against USC, Xavier let a previously cold-shooting Trojans team hit nearly 50 percent of its shots and 43 percent of its threes as the Musketeers fell behind by as many as 24 points before narrowing the gap with a late charge.
The two consistent problems were Xavier's poor free throw shooting and the play of point guard Dee Davis. In three games in the Bahamas, Davis made only 1 of 15 shots he attempted and had more turnovers (9) than assists (6).
Frustrating as the weekend in the Bahamas must have been, Xavier can take solace that it has recovered from early stretches like this in the past. Poor stretches were expected from a team relying on so many freshmen and sophomores. What will define the Musketeers will be how they respond to adversity and progress over the course of the season.
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