MLK Day Sunday Conversation: 1/21

I include this picture as proof that Landen Amos can look competent with his left hand. - USA TODAY Sports

A 4-0 start has us looking at the S-Curve, talking about VCU's defense, and breaking down exactly what Xavier has to do to have a chance the rest of the way.

Xavier has turned a four game losing streak and talk of CBI at large bids into a 4-0 mark in the conference and the number 58 spot on the latest S-Curve from ESPN expert Joe Lunardi.

While that still leaves Xavier six or seven spots shy of the bubble, it's a massive improvement on 82nd, the Musketeers rank just 20 days ago. A big road win over defending Atlantic 10 tournament champion St. Bonaventure, and then an even bigger win over La Salle have helped solidify Xavier's quick start to conference play.

Pre La Salle:

Joel: We need this one.

Brad: In a big way. I watched VCU the other night, we aren't beating them.

Joel: Not unless Dee grows by a foot or Red gets really athletic all of the sudden. No way we don't go through a massive dry spell at some point against that defense. We could go a couple of minutes without advancing the ball across half court.

Brad: I know. The way they play is really fun to watch. Dad, of course, isn't a huge fan. [We'll note here that Dad would be content, elated even, to watch two teams run the Wisconsin Swing at each other for 40 minutes].

Joel: Why not? I've heard they basically dare the refs to call fouls.

After the game:

Brad: Amazing. 4-0. Just watched Butler beat Gonzaga. Great finish.

Joel: Did you see Stevens walk it off with his arms folded like a stone-cold assassin? I know I'm supposed to hate Butler and whatever, but that dude is awesome.

Brad: I didn't notice that, but I love him. He and Shaka Smart, really.

Joel: And Coach Mack, obviously. Coach Mack has weird fingers, though. Watch them when he cups his hands around his mouth to yell. They're long and skinny and a little bit creepy.

Joel: We were on the ropes before that Temple game; now we're starting to gain some momentum. Say what you will about Coach Mack (and people do), but the man's teams always come to play during the conference season. Speaking of conference play, Temple fell to St. Bonnie today. Does that mean Temple's worse than we thought they were, or the Bonnies are better? How does this make you feel about where we stand in the conference pecking order?

Brad: My opinion has changed a bit. I think it's possible we slot in behind Butler and VCU in that second tier of teams. UMass, St Joe, and La Salle haven't impressed me to the point I don't think we can play with them.

Joel: We're currently sitting fourth in conference-only offensive efficiency and third in conference-only defensive efficiency. We've beaten three 2-2 teams (Temple, La Salle, GW) as well as St. Bonnie, who sits at 1-3. With X and VCU at 4-0 and Butler can Charlotte as the only three-win teams in the conference, we're suddenly well-positioned to grab a first-round bye in the A-10 tournament. The most important thing in the rest of the conference season (other than trying to compile good wins and avoid bad losses) is to finish in the top four and grab one of those byes. Ken Pom currently has us, Butler, VCU, and St. Joe's as the only four teams projected to win 10 or more conference games. Do you think ten wins in the conference gets us to a bye? If so, do you think we can get there?

Brad: Yes, I think we can win 10. La Salle may still sneak in ahead of us for that bye, but I think we are in the conversation now, and we weren't a month ago. What on earth happened to UMass?

Joel: I suspect history will vindicate me in saying that they weren't that good to begin with. One-possession wins over Harvard and Providence to start the year; other than that, the win over Ohio stands out as an aberration. Chaz Williams can play, but they're not great beyond that.

Brad: I honestly thought UMass had a team this year. I picked them to win the A10 in the preseason, and you had them second. They just cannot defend right now. Tennessee got 81 on them. I cannot comprehend that Vols squad scoring 81 on a couple of our high school teams. (That might be an exaggeration).

Remaining conference play:

Joel: Because I basically live for things like this, I've broken down our remaining schedule to see where we get the six more wins we need:

Have to win: @Duquesne 2/9, Fordham 2/13, UMass 3/2
Give away any of these games and we're really shooting ourselves in the foot. Two home games against barely middling competition and a road trip to a very poor Duquesne squad should equal three of the wins we need.

Should win: @Charlotte 1/23, UD 1/30, @URI 2/20, Saint Louis 3/6
These games are all right around that coin toss level, but Xavier has been steadily improving since conference play began and I think they are realistically capable of handling all of these games. It's not unreasonable to think one of these teams could knock off the Muskies, but pulling two or three wins from this set of games should be our expectation.

Could win: @Richmond 2/2, @Dayton 2/16
Either of these games would fit into the above set if they were played at home. At a neutral court, I'd favor Xavier over either of these teams, but playing conference road games is never easy. I'd hope to win one of these, but I'm not certain that will happen.

Luxury wins: @St. Joe's 1/26, VCU 2/23, @Butler 3/9
These are all going to be really tough games, but grabbing a win in any of them would be a really big boost for the ol' at-large resume, to say nothing of the confidence of the team. Also, don't forget that Memphis is coming to Cintas on 2/26 in a game that looks at this point like it could go either way.
Do you see six more wins in there? I think I do; it's just a question of taking care of business in the ones we should win and playing up to our potential in the big games.

Brad: I'm going to break down your breakdown here.

Have to win: @Duquesne 2/9, Fordham 2/13, UMass 3/2
Agreed. If UMass was on the road, I'd put them in a could win, but at home we absolutely have to get that game or hope the Minutemen win a couple against the big boys.

Should win: @Charlotte 1/23, UD 1/30, @URI 2/20, Saint Louis 3/6
I don't know about Saint Louis here. I would call that one a could win for sure. The Billikens played Kansas tough and beat New Mexico by 14. Still, this is quibbling. I think we can drop one here and be ok. If we lose two of these, we are in trouble. There's no margin for error here.

Could win: @Richmond 2/2, @Dayton 2/16
I hate UD. Richmond doesn't impress me. They have beaten exactly no one (except Wofford) and got crushed by Ohio. Again, you can only lose one game here. Lose two and you are hurting.

Luxury wins: @St. Joe's 1/26, VCU 2/23, @Butler 3/9
We aren't beating VCU, I'll just say that right now. That Havoc defense is a thing of beauty. I could watch the Rams defend all day without bothering to see what they do on offense. Butler is a big ask now too, but we did beat them once already. I think St. Joe is very beatable. Our weakness is turnovers, and they don't turn anyone over (326th) or prevent offensive rebounds (275th). CJ Aiken will chase Semaj for blocks and leave Travis Taylor or (gulp) Jeff Robinson alone under the bucket.

Say we sweep the "have to win" (3-0), lose to Saint Louis in the "should win" (6-1), lose at Dayton in the "could win," galling though that is (7-2), and lose to VCU and Butler in the "luxury win" department (8-4). That would leave us 12-4 in conference. I cannot believe that I am considering that, but there it is.

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