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The Case for Hope: Is Xavier off the bubble?

A hot February has Xavier moving up, but they haven’t hit safety yet.

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

The Xavier Musketeers are smoking hot right now. After a galling home loss to Marquette, X has ripped off three straight, beaten a top 10 on the road, and added to Q1 wins to the resume. That’s about as well as you can reasonably expect a three game stretch to go. The Musketeers were in a hold before that, but they are climbing the ladder out.

The state of that hole can’t be overstated, though. When Xavier lost to the Golden Eagles they were off the bubble. And not like on the edge, but way off. As far off as the Oscars got it in not awarding Best Picture to 1917. Xavier was dead and buried, with only the hope of Poe’s narrator that they hadn’t been prematurely entombed. The bell ring of three straight wins has changed the equation.

The balance on the Bracket Matrix has now tipped in Xavier’s favor. Of the 92 brackets reported this morning, 86 feature Xavier, more than all but one of the 10 seeds solidly in the tournament, but still as an 11 themselves. The Breacketologists also see Xavier as in given the strength of their upcoming schedule. Per John Gasaway on ESPN’s Bubble Watch “In fact, the Musketeers have now played themselves into the tournament field according to most projections.” Gasaway adds this coda, though, “Will the committee focus on the win in Newark at the expense of, say, an 8-10 record in a good but not especially mighty Big East? It might be better not to test the question.”

That leads us back to our trusty Bart Torvik Teamcast. The Musketeers are now 40th in Torvik’s rankings and 46th in KenPom. Neither of those numbers should bring Xavier fans comfort, because teams ranked higher than that miss the tournament every year. Sticking with the projection we have used since Xavier hit what was hopefully their nadir, the Musketeers would now finish 10-8 and land on the nine seed line with an 88.3% chance of making the tournament. (Worth noting: the away game at SJU is essentially a toss-up at this point. I’ve projected it as a win for our purposes here). Throw in a first round win and second round loss at the BET and the math changes almost not at all.

But what if things don’t go that well? The Big East can give, no doubt, but it can also take away. It’s not hard to see Xavier losing games at St. John’s and then dropping a home contest to VIllanova. After that three game slide X could well beat DePaul, but then a projected loss to Georgetown leaves them needing to win out over Providence and Butler to get to 8-10. That puts Xavier on the 10 line with a 70% chance of getting in overall. Lose that Butler game and X drops right back on to the cut line with a 7-11 record in conference play.

Right now the Musketeers seem to be in good shape. There is still a lot of season left, though. Things can get better to the point where the Big East tournament becomes essentially moot. Things can get worse to the point that a first round win becomes vital. The projected outcome for every game except a loss at Butler (72.5%) and a win over DePaul (72%) lands within a ten percent range around 50%. The season still hangs in the balance.