The other day I was taunting a fan of the Ohio State Buckeyes football team when he attempted a riposte invoking Xavier's football team. When I replied that Xavier students are too intelligent to use their heads as batter rams, he took a shot at the basketball team, asking which conference they even played in. I had him there again with the Big East. I was feeling pretty good when, as he slipped beneath the surface of my verbal raging sea, he asked if I honestly thought Xavier was one of the best 45 teams in the nation. On the exterior I laughingly dismissed the question with a quick yes, but internally I was suddenly thrown into conflict.
On the very surface of it, the answer is actually no. Looking at only last season, Xavier was 59th in the venerated KenPom rankings and 54th in ESPNs BPI. That's close, but it isn't top 45. For the sake of this argument, we won't consider the strength of the program altogether. Any reasonable basketball fan recognizes Xavier as one of the top 50 programs in the country, what is up for debate is whether, this year, they are a top 45 team.
One of the main reasons, if not the sole reason, Xavier was anywhere close to the top 45 last year was Semaj Christon. While his inclusion on this team would mean it was probably in the top 25, he has moved on for the paycheck of the NBA. Semaj used 27% of Xavier's possessions when he was on the floor last year, good for 210th in the nation. He also played nearly 90% of the minutes Xavier was involved in, and was the focal point for the team in basically every game. Replacing 17/4/3 isn't easy, and losing Justin Martin and Isaiah Philmore won't help.
While Xavier has retooled with seven new players, there are remaining players that add a good deal to the top 45quest. Jalen Reynolds looks ready to explode after closing last year very strong, and Matt Stainbrook and Dee Davis form a very strong spine to the team. That doesn't mean that the meshing process will be quick or easy. Adding talent is always a good thing, but a rotation must be figured out and it will remain to be seen who can actually handle the stress of the college game.
More importantly to the slightly esoteric top 45 question is what that number means. Landing in the top 45 generally means a bid to the NCAA Tournament. Last year SMU, Maryland, Florida St., and Utah were the only teams to land in that arbitrary cut off line and not go to the big dance. (NC State was 55th, just for reference). Getting into the 30s is generally a guarantee of a bid unless the committee fouls up massively. That adds to the impetus of climbing even a few spots over the nice round top 50 number, and into that top 45.
So, how would you answer that question? Have the incoming seven bolstered the team sufficiently enough to climb into the top 45? Does losing Christon, Martin, and Philmore give the team too much to overcome in becoming a surefire tournament squad? Is Xavier a top 45 team?