This is the time of year when Bubble Watch(es) and Bracketology begin to become daily checks for those teams staggering to the finish or attempting to rally their way into the big dance. X hasn’t been in a spot like that for a long time, but then X hasn’t had a season where they lost three presumed starters for long stretches of time. Losing to Providence was one of those foregone conclusion games, but it certainly didn’t help things. With that in mind, and keeping things in the realm of the plausible, here are the scenarios that face Xavier Nation as March approaches.
Worst Case Scenario:
The wheels come completely off. Trevon can’t come back until say, the Butler game, and Xavier dumps them both (which is what KenPom is predicting) between now and then. Losing to Marquette and Seton Hall isn’t the worst thing in the world, but in lat season context it won’t look good. Even with Trevon back, Butler is a tough matchup. Xavier could very well lose that and be sitting at 18-11 with Marquette and DePaul before the Big East conference tournament.
Call those games wins and Xavier is 20-11 heading to MSG. This is the worst case though, so let’s assume that the Musketeers drop a first round game to Providence there. That leaves the team at 20-12 on the year and probably solidly on the top end of the bubble. Here’s the issue with this scenario, it leaves Xavier with only one top 25 win. The Musketeers get a lot of credit for having a brutal schedule, but they’ve not beaten the very top end of that schedule. There are no bad losses to be found, but the lack of good wins and a total swoon down the stretch leaves Xavier looking at a somewhat fraught Selection Sunday and a 10/11 seed in this scenario. Lose that last home game to Marquette and things get very dicey indeed.
Best Case Scenario:
Trevon is ready to go come tomorrow and his team is still playing the rugged basketball they have for the last two games. If that happens, it’s easy to see this team running the table in the regular season. The two road games are both toss ups that Xavier can win if they keep rebounding like they have been. Since this is the best case we’ll pencil in a win over Butler, and Marquette at home and DePaul should be easy enough after that.
That leaves us looking at a 23-8 Xavier team with exactly no bad losses. The Butler win bolsters the resume a bit, but not enough to make a significant jump back into those top four seeds in each region. Throw in a run to the Big East final, and Xavier is looking at a five seed. Getting there, or even into the six, would be a huge boost to a team that very much wants to miss those 7-10 seeds.
Xavier probably isn’t running the table, but they also probably aren’t dropping five or six in a row. Right now Joe Lunardi has Xavier as a steady seven seed and his ESPN colleague and bubble watcher Eamonn Brennan (get ready to read that name a lot in the coming weeks) says that only “a complete slide in its last five games could change the calculus.” Chris Dobbertean of SBNation also has Xavier as a “near lock.” Barring the almost wholly unthinkable, Xavier is in the tournament. The next three weeks are now an exercise in avoiding landing somewhere between seven and ten. The Musketeers are now a team that can make some noise if matchups land the right way. Avoiding someone like Duke in the second round is the best way to make that happen.