Joe Lunardi has fired up his bracketology machine for the 2016 tournament, and he has Xavier slotted in as a nine-seed right now. This is better than where he had Xavier at this point last year (nowhere) but worse than where they were last time the NCAA tournament saw them (the Sweet 16). Setting aside the fact that it's August (and with a doff of the cap to Joe, who is presumably trying his best), let's take a look at what could move Xavier around between now and Selection Sunday.
Ways Xavier could move up
Find a point guard. This is the most obvious one. As we've seen time and again, preseason predictions - whether by man or machine - hate uncertainty. With half a dozen new players in the side last year, Xavier was underrated by just about everyone from KenPom to Luke Winn. This season, the curveball is the departure of Dee Davis with no clear replacement. Getting the ball where it needs to go is important, and having someone who can handle that responsibility would be a huge boon for the Muskies.
Get out of Thanksgiving unscathed. Nothing dings your upward momentum like dropping a 1-2 or 0-3 over the long weekend somewhere sunny and apparently not that conducive to winning basketball. Xavier doesn't need to go undefeated in Thanksgiving to put themselves in position for a successful season - as we've clearly demonstrated in the past - but picking up a couple of resume wins in November is a good way to keep from needing to run the table in the conference tournament.
Execute close/late. Or alternatively, get a little lucky. If our series a couple of weeks back showed anything, it's that Xavier had a lot more big plays go against them than they did for them over the course of last season. Whether you think those are the outcome of a team that couldn't close (and they quite possibly were) or were just bad luck, ironing a little bit of that out would go a long way toward sprucing up the resume come March.
Ways Xavier could fall
Play garbage defense. Xavier's continuing trend under Coach Mack has been to have real trouble defending the arc, especially against teams whose big men can shoot the ball. The new shot clock and Coach Mack's recent turn towards a 1-3-1 zone both should help out here, but there's a much bigger chance that X goes astray because of defensive deficiencies than an inability to score the ball.
Fail to sort the roster. Remember last November? We were looking at a roster that appeared to be at least 10 dudes deep. Remember last March? You knew who was going to be on the court at crunch time. That's the best way for basketball to work; you want to know that you have somewhere more than five but fewer than nine players who are going to know what their purpose is and execute it. Depth is great; confusion puts you on the 11 line.
Have the league let us down. Can Xavier control this? Not really. Is it going to be a big deal? Yes it is. The Muskies have 18 games against Big East teams. That's great when it's eight teams that played really well plus DePaul; it's less so when nobody is really carrying marquee wins into the new year. One of the biggest differences between the A10 and the Big East is not having to slog through garbage in conference play; that's what put Xavier on the 6 line last year, and it's what they need from the league going forward.