The lenses of history and nostalgia would have preferred a Villanova-Georgetown final in the Big East championship game. And it almost came to that as the Hoyas nearly made a classic comeback from a late 20-point deficit.
Ultimately, though, this new Big East semifinal was best seen through goggles, like the ones worn by Matt Stainbrook of Xavier.
The bespectacled big man, a transfer from Western Michigan who was called both the goofiest and most serious player by Xavier Nation magazine, scored 20 points and had nine rebounds to lead his team to a 65-63 victory in the conference tournament semifinals Friday night. The sixth-seeded Musketeers (21-12) will play top-seeded Villanova for the title Saturday night.
"I think this comeback shows how deep of a team we are," the Hoyas' Isaac Copeland (15 points) said. "It's not easy to come back from down 20 like we were. It shows we have a lot of heart."
Xavier had appeared well in control before momentum turned on a reminder of the Big East's old days: a confrontation (recall Pearl Washington taking a punch at Patrick Ewing). Jabril Trawick of the Hoyas was fouled hard by Jalen Reynolds with 7:53 left and Xavier leading by 20. Trawick (19 points) appeared to challenge Reynolds, who apparently replied vigorously enough to earn a technical foul. Georgetown scored five points on that trip.
"It certainly changed the game," Xavier coach Chris Mack said of the technical. "I didn't have the luxury of being able to see the monitor. So I'll leave it in those guys' hands. I do know that there have been some double technicals called throughout the season . . . At least from what I saw live, I felt like that could have been the appropriate call, but I'm not the referee. I'm just a guy who yells at them."
Within four minutes, the Hoyas had cut the deficit to six. With 14.7 seconds left, it was only one.
It was all free throws after that and Xavier made just enough to hold on.
And the Hoyas didn't quite miss enough free throws to give themselves a better chance. Trawick admitted he tried to miss the second of two free throws down the stretch, but he mistakenly made it.
Coach John Thompson III said, "We have enough trouble practicing making, so I can honestly say we never practiced missing."
The failure to come all the way back ended the prospect of a Villanova-Georgetown championship, which would have been a tribute to the 30th anniversary of the 1985 NCAA championship game. Villanova won that in an epic upset, concluding a Final Four that featured three Big East teams -- St. John's also made it.
To be sure, there are similarities in Thompson's current Georgetown team (21-10) and his father's Hoyas of 1985.
"I see an excellent team. I see a team that's very athletic, really big around the basket," Mack said of the 2015 version.
Yet this is a completely different era and the remade conference highlights the addition of Xavier and Butler, who met in a taut overtime game late Thursday night. Call it an X factor. Xavier closed the first half on an 18-4 run Friday night, completed by Stainbrook's tip at the buzzer that allowed his team to race off the court with a 35-26 lead. In the end, they found themselves racing into the final.
"These guys [Musketeers players] sacrificed all summer," Mack said. "We went overseas to Brazil this summer. It's not the easiest thing in the world to do wallop drills and taking charges in July. We felt it was necessary to get our young team together. It's been a long journey, ups and downs."
Guard Dee Davis said: "We didn't come here to beat Georgetown. We came here to win a Big East championship."