With hopes of an at-large bid fading like the last rays of sunlight on a bleak winter evening, Xavier and their fans now have to hope for a winning streak in Brooklyn to put the Muskies through by way of the conference's automatic bid. While it seems unreasonable to expect a team that has had such spotty form to suddenly fall out of bed and start winning vital games by the bushel, there is still hope for the Musketeers. One huge boost for the team's chances would be to finish in the top four in the regular season standings and earn a first-round bye in the conference tournament. We have targeted ten conference wins as the magic number to get X over the hump and into the second round.
Unfortunately, that race to ten wins - a big enough ask in and of itself - doesn't happen in a vacuum. By my count, there are still seven other teams in with a legitimate shout for one of the conference byes. Not only must Xavier somehow find three victories in a very tough five-game stretch, but they also must hope enough teams around them falter that such an effort is not in vain. Currently sitting at 7-4 and alone in fifth in the league, the Muskies destiny is no longer in their own hands. Here's a brief rundown of the other competitors for the byes and what their remaining schedules portent.
Virginia Commonwealth, currently 9-2
Finishing schedule: @ Saint Louis, @ Xavier, Butler, Richmond, Temple
At 9-2, VCU pretty much controls their own destiny right now. Even a disastrous stretch run leaves them in fairly solid position to take home a first round bye, and their resume probably secures for them an at-large bid at this point. The most they are going to have to do with Xavier's chances (besides the Xavier game, obviously) is their potential to knock off some of X's competition for the final position in the top four. Cheer for them against Butler and Temple, cheer against them when they play the Muskies.
Saint Louis, currently 8-2
Finishing schedule: VCU, @ Butler, St. Joseph's, @ GW, @ Xavier, La Salle
Saint Louis still has six conference games left, so just about anything can happen, but they, too, look to be in good shape to grab a bye. Much like VCU, their game is based on a smothering defense. Unlike VCU, they're on their second coach of the season after Rick Majerus passed away late last year. Cheer for them when they face Butler and La Salle, and once again cheer against them when they play the Muskies. Find a way to follow along when they take on VCU tonight at 9pm.
La Salle, currently 8-3
Finishing schedule: @ Temple, @ URI, Duquesne, GW, @ Saint Louis
The Explorers did themselves a huge favor in beating both Butler and VCU in the span of a week in January, and that is basically why they're in the conversation right now. Without those overachieving wins, this is a typical La Salle team hanging in the middle of the table. Now they have a chance to pilfer a bye and maybe make some noise in the tournament. Cheer against them at every turn, even against fellow potential bye teams Temple (who we're assuming will pick up enough losses elsewhere to fail) and Saint Lou (who we're treating as a lock).
Butler, currently 8-3
Finishing schedule: Duquesne, Saint Louis, @ VCU, @ UMass, Xavier
The national media's favorite A-10 team and the team in the conference rated highest in the polls is suddenly facing a tricky run in. After that Duquesne game, there are a lot of potentially dodgy matchups on the schedule, and it's not out of the question that the Bulldogs could find themselves on the wrong side of the line come time for the conference tournament. Cheer against them when they play Saint Lou, VCU, UMass, and, of course, Xavier. There's really no reason to ever cheer for them.
Temple, currently 6-5
Finishing schedule: La Salle, @ Charlotte, URI, @ Fordham, VCU
We now transition to the three teams that sit a game behind Xavier in the conference standings. These three all have some work to do, but it's not out of the realm of possibility that they mount late charges to challenge for the bye. Temple was looking great a couple of months ago, coming off a win against Syracuse and a close loss at Kansas, but the A-10 season has been fairly unkind to their once high aspirations. Cheer for them when they take on La Salle and cheer against them in the rest of their remaining conference games.
UMass, currently 6-5
Finishing schedule: @ St. Bonaventure, Dayton, @ Xavier, Butler, @ URI
Here is another team that simply isn't as good as we thought they were going to be. The Minutemen once sat at 10-3 with their only losses coming to UNC, Tennessee, and Miami (FL), but they have fallen apart in conference and are now just clinging to life. They could still regroup to make a run, but another loss or two would bury that thought. Cheer for them against Dayton (obviously) and Butler, cheer against them when they take on St. Bonnie, Xavier, and URI.
Charlotte, currently 6-5
Finishing schedule: Temple, Dayton, @ St. Bonnie, @ Duquesne, St. Joe's
Charlotte once sat 3-0 in conference, but a 3-5 run since that time has put Alan Major's surprisingly effective team in a fairly tenuous position at this point in the season. At 18-7 overall, they can probably still get to the 20-22 win range, but they are going to need a really good stretch run to make the tournament by way of automatic or at-large bid. Cheer for them against Temple and Dayton and cheer against them the rest of the way home.
There you have it then. The three teams at 6-5 are not likely to regroup to take a bye, but they are all nipping at Xavier's heels if the Musketeers stumble. Missing out a bye would be rough for Xavier, but falling below about sixth would give the Muskies some potentially tricky matchups the whole way through the A-10 tournament. I think VCU and Saint Louis are out of sight at this point, but there are enough potential thorns in the schedules of La Salle and Butler that it's not inconceivable that Xavier could pick up a game or two on one of them and sneak into that final bye position. The most pivotal games on Xavier's schedule will be the must-wins against URI and UMass and that final conference road trip to Butler. In the meantime, check back here often to keep up to date on the teams against whom you should be cheering.