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The Case for Hope: That wasn’t helpful

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Xavier didn’t do themselves great harm Saturday, but they definitely fell back to the bubble pack.

NCAA Basketball: Villanova at Xavier
“No, shoot it IN the hoop!”
Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

There is probably never a great time to play your worst game of the season, but Xavier choosing to save theirs for a crucial February game right after they had jumped clear of the bubble pack was less than ideal. The Musketeers came into the Cintas in front of fans that had camped out all night and shot the ball as if they were the ones who had suffered the misery of sleeping in a tent. (Sidebar: Camping sucks no matter when or where.) A dreadful day of shooting doomed X to a loss and deprived them of a chance to kick free of the pursuing pack.

Xavier’s computer numbers reflect the day they had. Down four in the KenPom, down four in Bart Torvik, and, perhaps more importantly, down four in NET, Xavier is now squarely in the 40s in all of those measurements. Those are, without really digging into the bones of it, cut line numbers. Joe Lunardi dropped Xavier from well in the field to one of the last four byes. Per John Gasaway at ESPN’s Bubble Watch “Hosting the Blue Demons at the end of February is the kind of game that will draw little attention if Xavier wins, but the bubble talk will ratchet up significantly in the event of a loss.”

Bart Torvik has been the main tool we’ve used to project Xavier’s tournament chances for this series. Coming into the Villanova game the Musketeers were in good shape with a 70% chance of making the tournament. Coming out of it they have dropped from a potential nine seed all the way down to the 11 line and seen their chances of making the tournament at all drop to 56%. Spin it all you like, there are no “good” losses. This one was significant.

For the purposes of projecting Xavier’s season we had been counting this game as a win. It wasn’t. Still, if Xavier wins three of the next four like we’ve been projecting, they have an 80% chance of getting in. Losing the Nova game knocked Xavier’s top end bubble chances down from the 91.3% they could have climbed to had X won along the projection. Most computer models now have Xavier losing (convincingly), to the Friars in their penultimate game. If that happens, Xavier’s chances for a bid are 56% heading into the BET.

That means that this was a more costly loss that it may have seemed at first blush. The weakness in Xavier’s resume lies in their Q1 games. Xavier has played 12 of them, but they have only won three. If the projection holds true, they would finish 4-11 in Quad One games. Those 15 games show that Xavier can play high level competition, but don’t go a long way toward showing that they can beat high level competition. Teams around Xavier like ASU (five Q1 wins) and Providence (seven Q1 wins) can rightly claim that they have demonstrated that they can beat the best. Xavier has one enormous win to point at, but precious little else.

It’s not all doom and gloom for X. That massive amount of Q1 games means that in a straight comp with teams like Liberty (one Q1 game), Northern Iowa (two Q1 games), or Richmond or even Virginia (six Q1 games), Xavier’s resume comes out better. Those aren’t the teams that Xavier wants to end up on a seed line with, though, because those teams are going to be looking at play-in games in Dayton.

So what does this all mean? First, losing to Nova was damaging. Xavier could have all but sealed a bid by winning that game. Second, it wasn’t fatal. Xavier can really even afford to split the rest of the way and have a decent chance of getting in the tournament. Third, the margin for error is back to being very slim. Lose to DePaul or go 1-3 and things get very, very dicey. Finally, it means that Xavier is a bubble team. They will be a bubble team the rest of the way now. This is what happens when the worst game of your season happens in February.