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Navigating Xavier's tricky road from the Shootout to conference play

There's a sense in which the non-conference slate peaks at the Shootout for Xavier, but there's still a trio of matchups between the Muskies and the Big East.

NCAA Basketball: Cincinnati at Xavier Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

If someone had come to you in August and offered you 9-1 at this point and told you the Shootout wouldn't be the loss, you'd have taken it, right? There hasn't been quite as much in the schedule as there has been in years past, but the Muskies have managed to accumulate wins and avoid resume land mines the way high-major teams need to in preparation for March.

Now the promised land of the Big East and its 18 consecutive KenPom top-100 matchups is within reach. It isn't quite here yet though, and the difference between being an 8 seed in Spokane and a 4 seed in Cleveland might be found in the three games between now and Christmas.

At Wake Forest in particular has all the makings of a potential punji pit. A top-100 team that has underperformed its rating, on the road, coming off of finals week. KenPom has Wake Forest ending with a 12-18 record; that's going to be, at best a Q3 game by the time Selection Sunday rolls around. That's the kind of trap Xavier has to avoid.

Next up after them is Western Carolina. That's obviously another game Xavier doesn't want to turn into a loss, but it's at home against a very beatable team. If they lose this one, it's not because it was a trap, it's because they played poorly.

The final game in the non-con has probably the biggest risk of an actual loss, but the lowest potential of damage to the resume. TCU is 6-2 and, with just home games against Winthrop and Lamar between now and then, should be 8-2 by the time the game rolls around. With the risk of playing at a high-major comes potential reward, though; this could become the capper of the non-conference resume for Xavier.

At 9-1 with a pile of great matchups looming in the conference schedule, Xavier is positioned well for a solid resume come tournament time. The difference between 12-1 and 10-3 in the non-conference is going to be a huge one for the Muskies. A week between games after the Shootout gives X a chance to catch its collective breath, but a lapse in concentration here could give the team an uphill battle in the tournament.