We still remain in that unfortunate time of year where college basketball isn't playing games yet, baseball is winding down, and the NFL is trying to decide whether domestic violence is really all that bad. With Xavier lacking a college football team and Ohio State eliminated from the meaningful part of the season after only two games, it's time to start counting the days. Xavier's season kicks off on November 14th of 2014, but three games in 2015 already look to be very intriguing. As the Musketeers try to make the jump from the play-in games back to the big dance and from the second tier to Big East conference championship contender, these games will loom large.
1. At Villanova- January 14th
The old saying goes "to be the best, you have to beat the best." Much like a lot of things that become cliches, there's a ring of truth to that. Xavier will travel to Villanova in January having played only one team that finished in the top 60 of the KenPom rankings last year. That team, 57th ranked Stephen F. Austin, isn't exactly the kind of name that leaps off the schedule at you. This isn't to say that Xavier will arrive in the new year undefeated, but they will have yet to meet an opponent they don't have every chance of beating.
That will change come the trip to Philly. Villanova is bully on the block in the new Big East and they handed Xavier two conference losses last year. One of those, an 81-58 hiding, came at The Pavilion. Xavier will return to the scene of that particular crime looking to see if they are capable of taking a step up to the next level. Another 20+ beat down will do a lot to hamper that progression. A win, and the Musketeers will suddenly look very impressive.
2. At Georgetown- January 27th
As Joel mentioned in the Conversation, this game comes at the end of a four games in ten days run that will also see Xavier play in Rhode Island just five days prior. Somehow wedged in between that trip to Providence and this one to Georgetown comes a game against DePaul at home. While that is a quintessential trap game, it's the meeting with the Hoyas that will tell us more about the Musketeers.
Going on the road and winning is only easy when you get to play Houston and South Florida on a regular basis. Going on the road and winning in the Big East is a tougher proposal, and doing it twice in five days is brutal. Xavier has every chance of coming into this game with only a couple blemishes on the record, but this kicks off sprint to the end of the season that can only be described as daunting. Starting that stretch with a win over the Hoyas in their own home would make February look a lot more manageable.
3. Crosstown Shootout- February 18th
The Shootout in December is intense, fun, completely unmissable, and possibly the biggest game of the year. The Shootout in February is those things, plus an added helping of tournament implications. Both of these teams will be very much alive and this point, and both will be looking to add some gloss to their tournament resumes. This goes doubly for the Bearcats, who enter this game after playing Tulane and then follow it up with a trip to Houston. Xavier may not have huge numbers on the conference schedule, but UC comes off a non-conference slate featuring North Carolina Coastal and St. Francis and straight into a conference where only UConn and Memphis pose any potential chance to boost flagging RPI numbers.
Xavier, on the other hand, will play Creighton, Villanova, St. John's (twice), Providence, and Marquette in the same month as they face their hated rival. With only Butler offering a possible reprieve, Xavier will see the Shootout as a chance to add even more credibility to a month that could earn them a spot as a high single digit seed. It's the best rivalry in the nation, and now it's directly in the middle of the most exciting part of the regular season.
DVR won't let you scroll that far ahead, but if it did those are three games that would merit already being set to record. Mark the dates now, because by the time they get here these three contests could tell the story of the season.