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The Case for Hope: A Setback?

Xavier lost at Butler and in doing so missed a good opportunity, but did they hurt themselves at all?

NCAA Basketball: Xavier at Butler
Kamar Baldwin blocks Jason Carter’s head
Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

Over and over we’ve mentioned it. You can’t start conference play the way Xavier did without digging yourself a pretty sizable hole. The Musketeers found themselves 1-4 and staring up at the rest of the NCAA tournament bubble. A bounceback with three straight wins came only after the blow of being 2-6 and most assuredly out of the race for the conference title. Still, winning those three did a lot to erase the sting of the early struggles.

Yesterday, Xavier dropped the winning streak. In a tough game against an opponent that has been solidly mediocre since mid-January, the Musketeers lost. With that loss went Xavier’s last great chance at a resume road win. Two Q1 road games remain, but neither carry with them the cachet that winning in a drafty old barn does. (Perhaps college basketball’s answer to a wet Tuesday in Stoke?)

Xavier’s metrics changed after that loss, but not in the way that they usually do after a loss. The Musketeers moved up two spots in KenPom to #45, they jumped up to #39 in Bart Torvik and, perhaps most importantly. their NET rank improved to #43. All that after a loss. All told, that leaves Xavier with a 70.9% of making the tournament per Torvik projections. That lands them on the 10 line, well away from Dayton. According to John Gasaway at ESPN’s Bubble Watch, “Travis Steele’s men were more or less universally regarded as being in the hypothetical field, either as a No. 10 or 11 seed, before the Butler loss. In short, there appears to be a clear path for Xavier to secure a bid.”

Assuming the rest of the season goes as we’ve been projecting it (Loss, win, win, loss, win, win) Xavier will finish the Big East season at 9-9 and with an 85% chance of making the tournament. Pick up a win in the BET and that “jumps” to 86%. In short, Xavier’s tournament chances didn’t take an enormous hit last night, even if they did miss a great opportunity. It’s still onward and upward from here for the Musketeers, who remain solidly in bubble contention.