It’s an eternal truth of the NCAA tournament that the worse teams you face, the better your chances of advancing. The year the Tu/Lyons squad finally went a comeback bridge too far against Baylor, they knocked off Lehigh in the second round. That’s notable only in that the seeding would have suggested they face Duke. Obviously, facing the Mountain Hawks was a more favorable matchup than the Blue Devils
and the officials. Xavier’s last, and first, foray into the high seeds didn’t end well, but that doesn’t mean that those one and two seeds aren’t the place to be.
Back in the days of the Atlantic 10 Xavier built up a seed argument in the non-conference and then tried to hold onto it by beating Temple, maybe Saint Louis, and the occasional decent Dayton squad. Surprisingly, beating Fordham never seemed to impress the committee. Now, Xavier makes their argument and has a chance to add to it as conference play goes. If you can imagine a sort of continuous seeding taking place, Xavier can come into conference play as a four seed and still have a shot at a one or two.
This year, X came in somewhere around a two or three seed, depending on who you ask. (We ask Joe Lunardi and Chris Dobbertean.) That Providence loss and the hiding by Villanova didn’t help, but the win over St. John’s, still 78th in the KenPom rankings, steadied the ship. As it stands now, the Musketeers are firmly ensconced on that three line with Michigan State, UNC, and Kansas. That, by the way, is the company Xavier belongs in now.
What can help Xavier:
The main thing to do is avoid a truly terrible run, but we’ll talk about that in a moment. To really jump up the seed line there is one thing Xavier needs to do: beat Villanova. Beating Nova at home is going to be a boost, there is no question about that. The Wildcats are first in the nation right now, it doesn’t matter where you bear them, your seed goes up. That’s not the only game X has that can help, though. A win away against Creighton would add the always important road win to the resume (Marquette is the best right now). Seton Hall on Saturday presents that same opportunity.
Beating Butler in their barn would also bolster the road credentials of the Muskies. This is where the Big East really shines. There are no games that don’t, in some way, improve the resume. You can argue that Georgetown and DePaul aren’t great wins, but both are hanging just outside of the top 100 right now and could easily sneak back in. Fordham, South Florida, or East Carolina to play twice that can taint Xavier right now with one of those games that winning barely treads water and losing constitutes getting torpedoed.
What can hurt Xavier:
A six game losing streak. Last season the Musketeers looked like a good bet for a mid range single digit seed before Edmond Sumner’s injury and then the complete departure from the rails in February. At that point, it took some work for X to secure a bid at all. Obviously, doing that again will greatly damage the resume.
Short of spectacular self-immolation though, there’s not a lot here that can really hurt the Musketeers badly. Losing to Georgetown at home would be a dent, as would losing to DePaul on the road. Neither would be a catastrophe, though. The most possibly damaging stretch could be a loss to St. John’s in New York followed by a home loss to Georgetown and then another one in the L column on the road at Butler. X also ends the season with at @Georgetown, home to Providence, and @DePaul. Losing two of those three could be quite unhelpful, but it also seems just beyond the realm of the seriously concerning.
There’s not a great deal that Xavier can do to hurt themselves without playing a genuinely terrible stretch of basketball. (Like, say, they did at the turn of the year.) The Musketeers do have a bunch of chances left to strengthen the resume left on the schedule. This is the beauty of being a major program in a major conference, even the bottom of the seeding range looks awfully good.