Must-read material on what happened to Xavier’s Tu Holloway

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Xavier started the season as a Final Four darkhorse. Now, just winning a game in the NCAA tournament would be a delight.

But it wasn’t an injury that derailed the season. It was a fight.

The Xavier-Cincinnati brawl on Dec. 10 remains one of the season’s most notable events for its sheer ferocity and fallout. Most sports fans saw all of some of the video footage or photos. Punches were thrown. Faces were bloodied. Suspensions were issued.

Cincinnati suspended star center Yancy Gates for six games and switched to a four-guard lineup with impressive results. Since the brawl, the Bearcats are 12-4 and tied for fifth in the Big East.

Xavier issued various suspensions, but hasn’t been close to the same team since that day. It was 8-0 until then. Since? 8-8.

None of this is news. But what’s new is a recent package by ESPN that focuses on the brawl’s effect on the longstanding rivalry between the programs and another feature by Dana O’Neil on how it’s affected Xavier star Tu Holloway. Holloway was an All-America candidate before the season. Now?

From O’Neil:

What’s wrong with Xavier probably can be best summed up in one Chris Mack exhortation from practice.

“C’mon, Tu,” the coach yelled the day before the Musketeers hosted Saint Louis, “I want my tough guard back.”

He’s in there somewhere, lost in the maze of Holloway’s mental anguish, paralyzed between humiliation and confusion and tangled up in a naive hope that, by playing like more of a pleaser than an aggressor, he’ll change people’s opinions.

“I think it all took some of the life out of me,” Holloway said. “I know I need to get it back. I just don’t know how. I’m thinking too much, way too much. To be great, you have to play with emotion and passion. I’m trying.”

There is no undoing what Holloway said. In this age of gotcha media, Holloway’s words after the game — “We’ve got a whole bunch of gangsters in the locker room. Not thugs, but tough guys on the court. And we went out there and zipped them up at the end of the game.” — will live forever.

The defense Xavier has offered — that Holloway never threw a punch — is not much in the way of a balm on this festering wound. Holloway gets that. He has taken and is willing to accept blame for what he said.

What he doesn’t get, what he can’t shake, is how, in that handful of seconds, everything changed, seemingly forever.

It’s compelling, insightful writing and more than worth a read. (So is the Cincy-Xavier feature.) A little heavy for a Friday, but it couldn’t be helped.

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.