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Xavier v. DePaul: Preview, bubble update, and how we got here

It’s time for Xavier to earn their bid to go dancing.

NCAA Basketball: Xavier at DePaul Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s for a moment forget that Xavier is playing in the opening round of the conference tournament, that Edmond Sumner and Myles Davis aren’t here, that bubble watching has gone from sport to desperate pasttime, and focus on the fact that genuinely meaningful basketball is here. The Musketeers are playing in an elimination game today and, while that may not be good news, they at least get to do it against DePaul. Yes, DePaul is the only team X has beaten since the Super Bowl, but the Blue Demons only have two wins since the week before Christmas. That puts things in a bit of perspective.

Across the bubble today, as of this going to the presses, it’s been a good day for the Musketeers. Syracuse isn’t nearly as comfortable as their wheedling worm of a coach would like to think, and they blew their chance against Miami. Then, Boehiem got nuked on Twitter. After he whined, of course, that the ACC tournament that has been played in Greensboro since long before he had cheated his way to his first 500 wins shouldn’t be held in Greensboro, the city itself came after him.

That’s a hammer. Elsewhere on the bubble, Clemson, Xavier’s at one time excellent early season win, bowed out against Duke. While Syracuse still has an argument, Clemson getting in ahead of Xavier at this point would be almost inconceivable. Wake and Cal are both in action now, and both can do the Musketeers a favor by losing.

Of course, Xavier is the team that can best help itself. Beating DePaul is an absolute must. If the Musketeers lose and end the season by dropping seven of eight, adding in a loss to the Blue Demons, and not having beaten a quality opponent since February 4th, they are done. It’s as simple as that. Xavier has already done what they have to do tonight twice this year, here’s how it happened.

Xavier 72-61 DePaul

Xavier walked out of this game at 18-6 overall and 8-3 in the Big East. Yes, Trevon Bluiett seemed a little dinged up, but things were looking good. Tre went for 20/7/1, Quentin Goodin had eight assists against only two turnovers, and Kaiser Gates grabbed ten boards. It wasn’t a masterclass by any stretch, but the Musketeers grabbed the lead early and never relinquished it. Xavier’s winning chances never dipped below 92% in a game that they played poorly and controlled any way. Job done.

Xavier 79-65 DePaul

What a difference a month makes. Between DePaul games, Xavier dropped six straight, plunged out of the top 25, out of the “should be in,” and landed squarely on the bubble. Losing to DePaul four days ago would have even ended that, but the Musketeers finally found some traction and grabbed a win. Trevon, of course, had 24/10/2 and the Musketeers added some gloss to the scoreline late on. Maybe on the road wins shouldn’t be assumed, but they made this one a bit more difficult than need be.

Three questions:

- Is Tyrique Jones ready? Officially, he’s day to day. Xavier needs the nastiness that Jones brings to games. RaShid Gaston may put up the better numbers, but he lacks the edge that Tyrique has. Jones started both previous games against the Blue Demons. Xavier is better off if he can again.

- Is Trevon’s ankle ok? It was evident, despite the 24 points, that Trevon wasn’t moving well last game. He absolutely has to have a strong ankle to push off to get himself free and create lift. Without it, he’s a somewhat limited spot up shooter. X needs him to be more than that.

- Can Xavier beat a team three times? The old saw is that it is hard to beat a team three times in the same season. Of course, most teams aren’t DePaul. There is nothing the Musketeers do that will be a surprise to Dave Leitao. DePaul is going to be as ready as anyone can be for this game.

Three keys:

- Bury it early: X hasn’t done that well this year, but they have to have time to rest Goodin, Bluiett, and Macura if they can. 40 minutes a game for the Big Three is one thing with time in between, an entirely different proposition when there’s not even 24 hours between games.

- Cram the ball inside: Very simply put, DePaul can’t stop Jones or Gaston. Get them the ball. Get it to them again. Get it to them some more.

- Make DePaul shoot it outside: That’s playing with fire, because that’s how bad teams stay in games, but the Blue Demons are horrid shooters. In the only two games they won in the Big East they managed to take only a combined 27 threes. If they can live inside they will.