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Xavier's path to a Big East title

Let's take a look at what KenPom thinks Xavier needs to win the league and whether or not there's a way for the Muskies to get it done.

NCAA Basketball: Providence at Xavier
Let's do this again.
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Every game involving Xavier and a team not in the Big East is either in the books or yet to be scheduled. The next 18 games on the docket plus somewhere between 1 and 4 in the postseason will all be against conference foes. Everyone will play everyone twice, and at the end they'll crown regular season and conference tournament champs.

For the moment, we'll focus on the first distinction. If Xavier wants to win the title, they've got a big mountain to climb. Since the Muskies joined the Big East and the rabble plus our new best friends at UConn were cleared out, it has taken an average of 15 conference wins to win the league title. That leaves not a lot of wiggle room.

For what it's worth, KenPom and his algorithm predict a total of 12 wins to get the job done (and for Butler, no less). For our purposes, we'll split the baby and say X needs 13 wins to get a share of the title. Let's see if we can figure out where those might come from.

I'm going to split these games into five categories: guarantees, should wins, tough wins, coin tosses, and big asks.

Guarantees are just there to remind you that we aren't in the A10 anymore, and we're not going to get a KenPom 250 Fordham team at Cintas.

Should wins are exactly what they read like. You'd expect X to win and be disappointed if they lost. They aren't necessarily going to polish the resume, but they won't tank it, either.

Tough wins are games when you grit your teeth and put your money on X. Some of the early Georgetown teams would be an example, maybe Providence when they were good and we weren't. Games you know the margin for error is thin on.

Coin tosses could go any number of ways. X could get hot and run away and hide, or they could spend the game trying to run down the opponent. Think Creighton when they had nothing but bombers, especially at their place.

Big asks are also big opportunities. These are the games we joined the league for. At Butler this year [SPOILERS]. At Nova any year. The games that FOX National sends Gus Johnson to for the Saturday headliner.

Before we get to my subjective breakdown, know that KenPom sees Xavier as going 10-8 in the Big East this year. Bart Torvik, who I suddenly don't like, has them at 9-9. Here, in descending order of win probability, is how the league schedule shakes out for X per Ken Pomeroy:

DATE OPPONENT
Sat Jan 5 St. John's
Fri Feb 8 Providence
Mon Feb 25 DePaul
Fri Jan 11 Creighton
Tue Jan 22 Georgetown
Tue Jan 29 Marquette
Tue Jan 8 Seton Hall
Sun Feb 17 at St. John's
Fri Feb 22 Villanova
Mon Mar 4 at Providence
Mon Feb 4 at DePaul
---------------- --------------------
Thu Mar 7 Butler
Sat Jan 26 at Creighton
Fri Mar 1 at Georgetown
Tue Jan 15 at Marquette
Fri Feb 1 at Seton Hall
Mon Dec 30 at Villanova
Tue Feb 12 at Butler

Everything above that line of dashes in the middle is a game KenPom gives Xavier a better than 50% chance of winning. Everything below it... well, obviously. I guess you don’t need me to crack the case on that one for you. Anyway, here’s how I see it breaking down.

Guarantees

There are none of these games in the Big East, not even DePaul at home.

Should wins

St. John’s, Creighton, Georgetown, Providence, DePaul, at Providence.

Six games, mostly against the bottom half of the league, mostly at home. I’m throwing in Providence away because I just don’t respect Providence this year. I know they just ran Texas off of their court, but that seems like an outlier to me. I might feel much worse about this position when the game actually comes around.

Tough wins

I know, they’re all tough wins in the Big East, but... Marquette, Seton Hall, at St. John’s, at DePaul, Butler.

Your math hasn’t failed you if you think Xavier is going to have to win some road games to get to 13 league wins. I think at St. John’s and at DePaul will be tough but winnable games when the time comes.

Marquette and Seton Hall both have one dynamite guy that Xavier is going to need to plan for surrounded by some secondary options that will sink your team if they’re on. Bryce Moore is going to have his work cut out for him. Also, Marquette is the second-best three-point shooting team in the nation.

I don’t think Xavier is going to lose the season finale at home to Butler and let Q and Tyrique go out like that on senior day. That one is going to be a battle.

Coin tosses

At Marquette, at Creighton, Villanova, at Georgetown.

Three really tough road games, plus hosting the king of the league. Marquette with a home whistle worries me. Creighton is always tough in front of like 20,000 Omaha natives (Omahans?) going nuts. I think Georgetown is a wild card; what are they with six guys? Whatever it is, Ewing has them buying in. Nova’s Nova. Beating them is always a treat, if a too-rare one.

Big asks

At Nova, at Seton Hall, at Butler.

These games go on the top line of your resume... if you win them. Going on the road to a top-20 conference opponent is just a really tough thing to do; coming out of there with a win is a huge prize. If X picks up any of these games, they’ll be really well-positioned.

If Xavier wins every game KenPom gives them a better than 50% chance of winning, that’s 11 conference wins. If they meet their win expectancy in those games, it falls to just over 7 wins. However you slice it, and assuming Xavier doesn’t spit the bit in those games, they need to pick up between 2 and 6 wins in the 7 toughest games: Butler, at Creighton, at Georgetown, at Marquette, at Seton Hall, at Villanova, and at Butler.

That gets Xavier to 13 conference wins which, I’ll remind you, has been enough for a share of the league title just once since X joined. There’s no doubt Xavier is one of the top three or four teams in the league; it’s up to them in the next three months to scrap their way to the top of the pile.