Xavier took the first step on their path to leave themselves only a mountain to climb in the Big East tournament. Beating Providence and getting the other results needed left them in position to only (!) have to win three of five the rest of the way if things break right. If you’ve forgotten what other results Xavier needs, Joel’s excellent primer is right here.
There are five games left on the slate for the Musketeers to get what they need. None of them are easy, or really even middling. Seton Hall, Villanova, St. John’s, Butler, St. John’s is a where KenPom has Xavier’s best chance of winning at 47% and gives them only a one in four shot in three of them. It’s going to take a Herculean effort to get this done, but here’s a quick look on how it could happen. (A quick note: most teams lose if they turn the ball over half the time or shoot 15%. We’ll try to ignore those obvious routes to victory in favor of more likely ones.)
@ Seton Hall, Wednesday the 20th
Keep the Pirates off the offensive glass. In six of their nine losses, Seton Hall has collected 25% or fewer of their misses. When the Pirates get above that one quarter mark, they are 11-3. Seton Hall isn’t a great offensive rebounding team (27.3%), but if they hit their average, they are a pretty good bet to win the game. Xavier’s defense currently allows a 28.1% offensive rebounding rate.
Villanova, Sunday the 24th
There are basketball ways to win this game. Almost all of them involve playing good three point defense. If you think Xavier can do that for a night, you think they have a chance here. If you don’t, well, you’ve seen what happens against Nova.
@ St. John’s, Thursday the 28th/St. John’s, Saturday, March 9th
Xavier has the coaching edge here. Regardless of your current opinion on Travis Steele, he’s a better coach than Chris Mullin. Steele recently left Ed Cooley flummoxed for 20 minutes while the Musketeers put on an absolute basketball clinic. If he can do it to Cooley, he can do it to Mullin.
St. John’s, like a lot of well recruited and poorly coached teams, wants to run, run, run until they can make their raw talent count. They’re athletic, they take chances, and the play fast. The Johnnies are averaging 71 possessions a game per adjusted tempo, and have the 18th fastest offensive possessions in the nation. Xavier, on the other hand, prefers to be extremely slow, averaging a full six possessions fewer per game than St. John’s. That’s not an insignificant number, it’s a gulf.
Six times this season the Johnnies have been forced under 70 possessions. They are 4-2 in those games, but only against Creighton did they win convincingly. A horrible California team nearly beat St. John’s by slowing the pace, and the Providence squad that Xavier just hammered beat them by 14 in a game with only 64 possessions. Two of the Johnnies three worst offensive rebounding games, two of their five worst two point shooting games, and their worst three point shooting game have all come in slow paced affairs.
@ Butler, Tuesday, March 5th
Xavier’s road to redemption would be tough enough without having to play in a literal barn, but such is life. To beat Butler, you have to turn them over. Not at an absurd gamebreaking rate, either, just in 17% of their possessions. The Bulldogs care for the ball, but they only shoot passingly well and they play slowly. They generally cannot gun themselves out of trouble or speed up enough to outweigh turning the ball over.
When the TO rate for Butler tips north of 17% (a number Xavier has stayed under only nine times this year), the Bulldogs are 6-6. When it gets to 17.6%, a razor thin margin, they are only 3-6. Butler’s offense is so predicated on caring for the ball that they run into serious trouble when they don’t. When Xavier forces turnovers at a 17.6% rate or better, they are 9-3. One of those nine is the first Butler game. This one could hang on one or two tipped balls.