Xavier's postseason run came to an end Saturday night with an 83-59 Elite Eight loss to No 1-seeded Gonzaga at the SAP Center in San Jose.
After a season filled with ups-and-downs, the end result was that Chris Mack, his staff and Team 95 kept the momentum of Xavier's basketball program rolling in the right direction. The Musketeers didn't have the regular season they wanted after being ranked top 10 in the preseason, but they did end up back in the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament.
In terms of success on the recruiting trail, nothing is more important than advancing in the tournament. And when it comes to sustaining a successful high-major basketball program, nothing is more important than recruiting.
It just wasn't meant to be for the Musketeers on Saturday night. It was Gonzaga's time to break through to the Final Four for the first time in school history.
That was clear early in the game as the Bulldogs knocked down 8-of-13 attempts from beyond the arc in the first half, netting them a 24-3 advantage over the Musketeers from the perimeter.
The Bulldogs continued to outshoot XU in the second half as they finished 12-of-24 for the game. Xavier was just 2-of-16 from beyond the arc.
That's the only stat that really matters when trying to figure out what went wrong for the Musketeers. Sure, there were some other issues and they fell apart on offense against Gonzaga's zone for a stretch in the second half, but Xavier 's only chance to pull the upset was if the Bulldogs didn't play their best game. Instead, they shot 50 percent from deep. There wasn't much X could have done to change the outcome with the Zags shooting like that.
Saturday night's result stings for Xavier fans but the overall opinions of this year's team will be nothing but positive.
The timing of this unexpected postseason run couldn't have come at a better time for the Musketeers. Consider, they were coming off a season in which they reached as high as No. 4 in the coaches poll, knocked off the No. 1 team in the country and eventual national champs, and gained all types of national publicity. Then they were eliminated early from the tournament by Bronson Koenig and Wisconsin, ultimately ending a great season in disappointing fashion.
The early exit didn't hurt the coaching staff on the recruiting trail last spring. Mack, Travis Steele, Mike Pegues, and Luke Murray reeled in arguably the most talented class in Xavier history. The Musketeers currently rank eighth in the Scout.com team recruiting rankings for the 2017 class with two top 50 recruits, Paul Scruggs (30) and Naji Marshall (38), headlining a five-man class. However, an underachieving performance in the tournament last year followed by an underachieving season this year could have definitely slowed their roll heading into this spring's evaluation periods. The storylines surrounding the program could have easily been negative ones.
Instead, Xavier gained an extra week of priceless exposure. When a team reaches the second week of the tournament, the media's focus on that team intensifies greatly because there are only 16 teams left to cover. When a team advances to the second weekend as a double-digit seed, it multiplies that intensity. Taking it one step further to the Elite Eight does the same.
For Xavier, that meant another week of stories about Xavier's player development, another week of talking about how good of a coach Mack is, and another week of showcasing the perks that come with being a Xavier basketball player (chartered jets, custom Nike gear, team dinners, etc.).
College coaches will be allowed back out on the recruiting trail at NCAA certified AAU tournaments the third weekend of April (21-23). Xavier's coaches will be trying to push their recruiting efforts to new heights. Thanks to the third Elite Eight run in school history, they may have the momentum to do so.