Yesterday, it became essentially impossible to deny that Xavier has, after dumping five games in a row, landed pretty solidly on the bubble. The Musketeers five straight losses have seen them go from nearly a lock to make the tournament, to a team that should be in, to a team that is now hoping to avoid needing conference tournament wins in order to sneak in. The game against DePaul is obviously one that X cannot lose, but is Marquette now a must win?
First, we need to define terms. A loss to Marquette will not end Xavier’s season where it stands. Losing this game at home on Wednesday won’t mean that the Musketeers don’t play another game until next November. In that sense, it isn’t a game that they must win. Colloquially speaking though, this is the “must win” that announcers speak of. Xavier’s ironclad tournament resume is now gone. It’s well into time to rescue the season.
The reason that Xavier retains hope despite a horrid February is that the committee still values the RPI. The RPI may have seemed cutting edge in the 1980s, but it should have gone the same way as the tape playing Walkman. Instead, the tournament selection committee is going to use it to let undeserving teams in and keep deserving teams out, despite the proliferation of much better systems. Xavier’s RPI is currently 27th, their strength of schedule is 10th. 15 top 150 wins and eight top 100 wins are still bolstering the resume, even if most of them are collecting dust.
That brings us to Marquette. The Golden Eagles represent a final chance for a top 100 win and, maybe more importantly, a shot to bring the top 100 record up to nearly .500. The committee is expecting a win over DePaul, winning that game accomplishes absolutely nothing, and losing it is obviously a complete disaster. With that one essentially a foregone conclusion in terms of what the selection committee will look at, Marquette is the basically the last game on the schedule. Losing it means dropping six straight and leaving the Musketeers in a place where they have to win games in the Big East tournament.
As things currently stand, Xavier still narrowly misses playing on the first day of the Big East tournament. (Were it to start today, they would open against Creighton). That’s important because there is no first day win that is helping the Musketeers argument come selection time. Both Georgetown and DePaul only represent chances for a devastating loss, injury, or just even more unneeded fatigue. In the mind of the computer and the committee, those are already decided games. Winning does nothing, losing is a torpedo in a sinking ship. The team that currently sits just below Xavier and faces the prospect of those opening round trap games? Marquette.
To break it down even more concisely:
- Nothing good can come of a DePaul or Georgetown game. They must be avoided at all costs.
- Marquette represents a chance for one final decent win and, maybe more importantly, pushes Xavier off the Big East opening round.
- A loss to Marquette means that Xavier needs to bolster the resume with at least one more win over good competition. Their last one was Feb. 4th. Getting that win would mean beating DePaul once, beating DePaul or Georgetown in the opening round, and then facing either Villanova or Butler in the quarterfinals.
- Beating Marquette likely means that Xavier gets Creighton, Seton Hall, or Providence in the quarterfinals. None of those represents a chance for a terrible loss and beating any of them, for what should be a third win in a row, would likely lock X into the tournament.
So that is the situation facing the Musketeers as they head to the Cintas tomorrow. All of the groundwork laid early will go by the wayside with a loss, all of the missed opportunities for big wins will become so much the more glaring if the Golden Eagles triumph. Dropping this one would land Xavier directly behind the eight ball, needing to do some real work in the conference tournament to get in. As regular season games go, this is about as must win as they come.