The Xavier Musketeers are still alive and kicking. Wednesday was a game they could I'll afford to lose and, for 15 minutes at least, they played like it. That meant that bubble dreams weren't dashed in January with only last year's false dawn left to look for. Xavier is alive, but they're a terrible shot. (Thus end Dumb and Dumber references).
The odds of Xavier replicating The Run are slim. Fans love to look at that unique circumstance and see in it reason that no season is ever dead. That is no longer the truth of college basketball. Xavier plays in the Big East now. They are not going to wake up and win 13 of the next 14 conference tilts. The opposition is too good, they are not good enough. This year, no Big East team is. Banish that thought. It is not hope, it's pyrite.
That means Musketeer fans have to accept losses while at the same time praying their team is judicious with them. Enter WAB (Wins Above Bubble). WAB is a season cumulative stat that places teams on a spectrum and compares them with the "average" bubble team. That's a fluid target, but it is a target. Get WAB well into the positive numbers and you are looking good, stay below zero and you are in a world of hurt. Right now Xavier is -0.1 after the Georgetown win. Last year NC State missed with a 1.9, ASU snuck in with 0.1. No at large team had a negative WAB.
What this means is that Xavier has chances to leap back into the bubble conversation. (Right now, and I can’t stress this enough, the Musketeers are out of the tournament. They aren’t a bubble team, they are done. Thankfully, the season doesn’t end today.) The good news is that every game left has a WAB of .29 or higher. The bad news is that Xavier isn’t going to win all of them. So which can they least afford to lose? February 8th is against Providence at home. That is the .29 game. Win that and you basically hold serve, lose it and watch your WAB drop by more than half a point. Next is the February 25th game against DePaul at home. That’s a .30 game. Not much to gain, but a lot to lose. No other games are below .40.
Which would be the best to win? WAB reflects the shifting landscape of the bubble and so the lifeline is immediate. Beat Creighton Sunday on the road and see a .74 jump in WAB. That pushes Xavier to 0.6. That’s no sure thing, but it’s better than sub-zero. Xavier’s next huge chance comes at Seton Hall on Saturday the 1st. That’s a .77 game. Win both, and that Marquette game in between, and Xavier is suddenly much closer to the strong part of the bubble. The last huge game is a .80 tilt at Butler on Wednesday the 12th.
Xavier isn’t coming off the bubble this year. No matter how things go from now, the start to Big East play has put the Musketeers behind the eight ball. Looking at WAB shows where it is that Xavier can make up some of the ground, and where they can ill afford to stumble. It may be slim right now, but there’s a chance.