clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Joe Lunardi believes Xavier fans can breathe easy right now; I have my doubts

New, 2 comments

What does the historical precedent have to tell us about Xavier's current tournament position?

"Let's all bear down and do some math."
"Let's all bear down and do some math."
Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

That's the tweet (of ours; that's right, I'm citing myself) that got the conversation started; it references a Lunardi's statement on Mo Egger's show that Xavier is in safely and Musketeer fans can breathe easy at this point. That would assume that even losses in the remaining two games would not be enough to remove Xavier from the tournament. Can that really be true?

To try to begin figuring this out, I'm going to take a look at some of the worst at-large teams of the last ten years and see how much they can tell us about Xavier this season. We'll go in chronological order, which means starting with...

North Carolina State (2005): 19-13 on Selection Sunday

The Wolfpack were actually 17-12 heading into the ACC tournament, but they got a couple of wins there to put them over the top. They were 6-8 against top 50 teams on Selection Sunday. They also had an 11-3 record against teams outside of the RPI top 100 and only one loss below 150. Their 9-10 against the top 100 on Selection Sunday nearly mirrors the 9-9 that Xavier would be sporting if they grabbed two more losses.
NCAA tournament: Sweet 16.

Alabama (2006): 17-12 on Selection Sunday

The 2006 Tide has the dubious distinction of being the team with the fewest wins to earn an at-large bid. They had 5 top 50 wins and were 9-9 against the top 100, pulling in at 57th in the RPI. Their worst loss was at home to RPI 156 Mississippi, a circumstance very similar to Xavier's loss at home to Creighton. For what it's worth, they avenged that loss later in the year and were 8-3 against sub-100 teams.
NCAA tournament: second-round loss to eventual finalist UCLA.

Arizona (2008): 19-14 on Selection Sunday

One of the worst records to ever grab an NCAA at-large bid, and one of their wins was against a non-D1 opponent. They got in on the strength of a 37th RPI ranking thanks to playing the second toughest schedule in the nation. They had 5 top 50 wins and were 10-12 against the top 100. Just as importantly, their worst loss was RPI 126 Virginia and they were 5-0 against teams below 150.
NCAA tournament: this battle-tested team was bounced in the first round.

Arizona (2009): 19-13 on Selection Sunday

At one time 18-8, this team went 1-5 down the stretch to put itself squarely on the bubble. This is another strength of schedule success story though: despite an RPI of 62 they had just 1 sub-100 loss on the year. With a 6-10 record against the top 50 and 8 top 100 wins, they snuck in as a 12 seed.
NCAA tournament: Sweet 16.

Marquette (2011): 20-14 on Selection Sunday

This is the second-worst RPI team to make the tournament in the last ten years with a rank of 64 on Selection Sunday. They were 5-12 against the top 50 and 7-13 against the top 100; when people talk about a weak bubble, they're envisioning teams like Marquette getting in. Of course, they turned out to be a horrible matchup for the team they drew in the first round.
NCAA tournament: Sweet 16.

USC (2011): 19-14 on Selection Sunday

The worst RPI team to make the field in the last decade, sporting a ranking of 67 in that metric when the selection show began. They at least had 5 top 50 wins and were 8-8 against the top 100, but early-season losses to three sub-150 teams really dogged their efforts. Only winning six of their last eight put them in position for an at-large bid.
NCAA tournament: first-round loss.

Michigan St., Penn St., Tennessee (2011): all 19-14 on Selection Sunday

What was it with mediocre at-larges in 2011? Michigan State and Penn State each had only one sub-100 loss and each sported 5 top 50 wins. Tennessee had 8 top 50 wins, which the Committee adjudged to balance out their three sub-100 losses, including one to RPI 225 Charlotte.
NCAA tournament: each of these teams was bounced in the first round.

West Virginia (2012): 19-13 on Selection Sunday

Another team bouyed by a lack of bad losses; WVa's only two RPI sub-100 losses were to 159 St. John's and 106 Kent St. They put together a 4-8 record against the top 50 and 9 top 100 wins. Their RPI was only 57, but their strength of schedule ranking was 3rd.
NCAA tournament: first-round loss.

For what it's worth, finishing the season with two more losses would have Xavier sitting at 18-14 with 4 top 50 wins and a 9-9 record against the top 100. They would also have 5 sub-100 losses, including a real killer to 165 DePaul. In the past ten years, we've seen teams with 14 losses earn at-large bids, but none of them with as few as 18 wins. Those teams all had done better at avoiding bad losses than Xavier has so far this season.

For my money, a win against Creighton this weekend has Xavier in a solid position barring any championship week craziness. If the Musketeers can somehow scratch together two more wins before Selection Sunday, I'd say that historical precedent has them solidly in the tournament.