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The next five games will dictate the direction of Xavier's season

In a handful of games - three of them at home, all of them against competition roughly indistinguishable from Xavier - the Muskies will chart their course for the rest of the year.

St John’s v Xavier
Travis Steele is staring down the decisive stretch of the season.
Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

#44 Creighton, home and away

#35 Marquette, home and away

#46 Georgetown, home

Between now and the beginning of February - widely held to be the worst month in the entire year - Xavier will play those five games. By the time the calendar turns, we'll know what this team is and where they'll be going.

Five games against three teams. The sum of their current KenPom rankings is 204, which averages out to 40.8 over the five games. Xavier is currently 41. This stretch could not be any more of a direct challenge to Xavier's perception of itself without being a series of intrasquad scrimmages.

According to Ken Pomeroy's projections, Xavier is expected to win 2.65 games over that stretch. It's imperative that they outperform that. Three wins would have Xavier holding serve at home and moving to 15-6 (4-4) before a brutal stretch of 4 out of 5 on the road to open February. The only home game during that run is with Providence, who is currently 3-0 and atop the conference table.

Winning three games would also have Xavier putting at least two of those three teams on three conference losses, which will be vital leverage come conference tournament time. All four of the team's involved in this stretch are currently 1-2, and it stands to figure that at least two of them will be playing on the first day of the Big East Tournament. That's not a death knell, and it can even be a boost for a team that needs to pick up a 20th win, but anyone with realistic aspirations of cutting down the nets at MSG doesn't want to be playing on the opening night.

Going 4-1 would be an even better outcome. All - "all" - X would have to do is hold serve at home and win one road game. KenPom gives the Muskies a better than 1 in 3 chance in both of their trips away from home in this stretch, so it's not outside the realm of possibility. If the team is playing well, you can certainly see them avoiding coughing up like a 22-3 run or something in one of those games and taking home a big win.

That level of success would have Xavier at 5-3 in the conference, holding 16 total wins, and well positioned for the tough stretch ahead.

Of course, there's also the possibility that Xavier wins 2 or fewer of these games. That would be something close to disaster and have the Muskies rapidly approaching #RunTheTable range for the second year in a row. If that happens, you'll see Xavier on the wrong side of the bubble with the season getting late fairly early.

Five games against three teams between now and the end of January will tell us what Xavier is. This team can still be the favorite in the first round of the tournament and a really tough out with a Sweet 16 bid on the line. On the other hand, they might be an 11 seed that a 6 hates to see, or maybe even a play-in game participant. It's poised right there.

I think the league title is probably gone, but Xavier can still find themselves in position to have an extra day of rest and a favorable first matchup in the conference tournament. It's a weird quirk of the league schedule and the early outcomes that the middle of the pack has a chance to sort itself between now and the end of January. If the Muskies blink during the next three weeks, it's suddenly an uphill battle from where they'll be to where we want to see them. By the time February hits, we'll know.