One adverb makes all the difference. Were Xavier, according to ESPN’s Eamonn Brennan, simply not in bubble danger, we would all rest so much the easier. After all, even a team that staggers in gets in. But Brennan goes and throws “yet” on the end of his sentence and ruins the illusion of a Musketeers team that is home and hosed. With three regular season games to go and the Big East tournament still waiting, Xavier is still an adverb away from safety.
The good news is that Xavier’s resume is still nigh on impeachable. The Musketeers RPI, as anachronistic a measurement as it is, is still something that the committee will look at and sits at 22. X has 16 top 150 win, eight against the top 100, and three against the top 50. There is no terribly impressive win on the resume, but there are exactly zero really bad losses. So long as the committee insists on living in the 1980s, Xavier’s RPI will carry them through. (Metrics and infinitely better systems like the KenPom and BPI are coming into use, but have yet to push out the RPI altogether. God willing, that day will come soon).
The bad news is that the lack of an impressive win and the recent four game tailspin have Xavier on the edge of the slope down to the bubble. Both Jerry Palm and Joe Lunardi have Xavier on the 8/9 line. Palm refers to a couple other dwellers of that line, notably Dayton, as either in for now or on the fence. Lunardi has the 8/9 teams as safe for now, but has a plethora of 10 seeds as has last four byes or hanging right on the edge of having to face the play-in round. That leaves X with solid footing for now, but one more slip away from a possibly precipitous plunge.
So what does that mean coming up? Three things:
Xavier can’t lose to DePaul:
Lose to DePaul, pull a Georgetown, as it were, and this all goes out the window. That becomes the truly horrific loss and makes the lack of a commensurate win stand out all the more. The RPI would plunge, as would the good computer metrics. Losing to the Blue Demons lands Xavier right in the thick of the group trying to avoid a play-in game. It’s still not an automatic disqualifier, but it really weakens the Musketeers argument.
Beating Butler should do it
The Bulldogs are 11th in the RPI, just beat Nova on the road, and have five top 25 wins. If Xavier knocks them off on Sunday (and then doesn’t lose to DePaul), we all go back to hoping for good matchups. Losing to Butler is bad in all the traditional reasons, but it wouldn’t do much to damage the resume. Sunday is a vital game if Xavier can win it, less so if they lose.
Marquette doesn’t matter, unless it does
If Xavier beats Butler the Marquette game fades in importance. If Xavier loses to DePaul, no amount of beating Marquette will matter. Yes, it would be nice to knock the Golden Eagles off the bubble and aid in getting to 20 wins, but the only way Xavier absolutely needs this one is if they lose to Butler. Losing that one would have the Musketeers staring down the barrel of a sixth straight loss when Alphabet’s Boys came to town. Lose six in a row coming into March and the committee won’t care a great deal that you rallied to beat DePaul, you’ll have to do some more convincing.