"Control their own destiny" is a term that you hear a lot as various leagues bear down on their various means of resolving who is the winner. Assuming you don't play in a sport that arbitrarily selects four teams at the end of the season to contest the semi finals, you start the season controlling your own destiny. In college basketball, that means you do as much as you can to leave your fate out of the hands of the occasionally fickle committee. Don't want to end up like SMU last year? Win your games. Xavier still controls their own destiny this season, but only just. Now firmly on the bubble, the Musketeers are a slip away from the precipice.
As bad as the home loss to St. John's seems, it's not one that the committee will be using as a reason to leave Xavier out of the big dance. That said, it's not as if the Musketeers haven't given them any ammunition. The decision makers will insist on using the anachronistic RPI, and by that Xavier has four losses that really jump out.
It wouldn't be Thanksgiving without Xavier losing and, following a really close to bad loss against UTEP, the Musketeers dropped this one as well. LBSU currently has an RPI of 101 and it's not going up any time soon.
Overtime isn't a mitigating factor. This loss came against the 133rd ranked team in the RPI and featured Xavier blowing a lead by succumbing to a second half run from a bad team. Dee got in foul trouble, Remy Abell had a great game and a terrible final possession, and Xavier lost a truly bad one. At least it was on the road.
DePaul has been better than expected this year, but they haven't been good. Another road game, another underwhelming loss to an opponent that should have been dispatched. If you're looking for a theme in theses losses, it's a road game and a complete lack of mental toughness.
If Xavier misses the tournament, it's because of this game. This one is an absolute killer. Xavier's previous bad losses had the mildly redeeming factor of at least being on the road. This one came to the 125th ranked team and it came at home in a game Xavier led by seven in the second half. The committee won't forget that.
Another factor in a team making the tournament is how well that particular team travels. Xavier is now 3-6 on the road and 1-2 on a neutral court. Take another bubble dweller like say, St. John's, and you'll get a 2-1 record on a neutral court and 3-4 on the road. That's not a massive difference, but making the tournament could come down to the narrowest of margins. Xavier doesn't travel well and lost to Creighton at home. That's not the last thought you want to leave in the mind of anyone with a hand on the switch.
It's not all bad news for Xavier, though. After all, the Musketeers are 3-3 against the RPI top 25 with two more games coming up in that bracket. Xavier has solid wins on the resume.
The new year started with a blowout of the Hoyas at home. A quarter of Georgetown's losses have come against Xavier and the Hoyas have exactly no bad losses.
As good as that first win over Georgetown was, this one was even better. Going on the road to grab a top 25 RPI win is something that the committee will be looking for when it weighs the resume of bubble teams.
In what world is a win over a Friars team that lost to Boston College and has the likes of Binghamton in the win column a very good win? In the world of the RPI. Providence is 24th in the nation and Xavier has beaten them, and recently.
Xavier has the 31st toughest schedule in the nation by RPI. Again, the RPI is a horrid tool, but it's the one the committee will lean on in a jam. Xavier's worst game is a win over 246th ranked IUPUI. That stacks up very well against the 326th ranked Nicholls St squad that fellow bubble dwellers UCLA beat. Here, also, is where the Big East has helped immensely, as has gaming the RPI. Northern Arizona was in the 300s early in the season when Xavier played them, but has continuously risen by ripping off wins in the subpar Big Sky. In the OVC, Murray St is 13-0 and watching their RPI, and Xavier's with it, rise. Meanwhile, the Musketeers continually benefit from facing hgh quality opponents who are also constantly playing each other.
So where does this leave us?
Xavier is currently 41st in the RPI and on the upper edge of the bubble. (By the more sensical KenPom rankings, they are 25th and a mid level seed). Coming up are games against UC, St. John's, and Creighton on the road, and Villanova and Butler at home. Those games break into two easy groups.
Losing to Creighton again pretty much ends Xavier's chances at an at large without a commensurate miracle elsewhere. Losing to St. John's isn't a complete kill shot, but it probably leaves Xavier needing to win convincingly in a game that they probably won't.
UC is 39th in the RPI, Butler is 21st, and Villanova is 4th. The Crosstown Shootout is a road game, so a top 50 win there will carry extra weight. A win over either Butler or Villanova is a top 25 win and very hard to ignore. Xavier has to win two of these three in order to climb back off the bubble. Win all three, and the Musketeers can exhale. Lose two, and March 15th is an exercise in stress management. The Musketeers still, barely, control their own destiny.