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Xavier is in a tough spot in the Big East race

The Muskies still (barely) hold their own fate in their hands in the battle for the 6 seed.

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

Hopes and expectations get recalibrated on the fly in any season, often multiple times. I don't know what you were hoping Xavier would be able to do this year when the ball went up for the first time, but down the stretch here I think the goal has narrowed to making the NCAA tournament. With a couple weeks of conference play left, the Muskies are squarely on the bubble.

A big step in the right direction in that regard would be to get to at least 20 wins. The two most reasonable (or at least, most likely in my mind) paths to that goal are going 3-1 down the stretch in conference play, or going 2-2 and winning at least one Big East tournament game.

Xavier can also boost the profile of their overall resume by getting the 6 seed in the conference tournament, neatly excising a Wednesday game and giving themselves the chance to play fresh with a chance for a very good neutral site win. They're going to need to close hard to do it.

Xavier's competition for the 6 seed is down to Marquette and Butler, who currently lead X by 1 and .5 games, respectively. The teams are currently 5-7 in the league standings, so two of them will get first-round byes. Marquette, it should be noted, beat X twice head-to-head.

The Muskies have four games left (with KenPom ranking): DePaul (83), at Georgetown (54), at Providence (49), and Butler (30). Marquette has Georgetown (54), Seton Hall (19), at DePaul (83), and at St. John's (79). Butler has the weekday fixture off and then finishes with DePaul (83), St. John's (79), and at Xavier (45).

KenPom figures Butler and Marquette to each finish at 9-9. The question is whether or not Xavier can get there.

One thing the Muskies have going for them is form. Since January 21, Xavier has been 22nd in Bart Torvik's T-Rank, powered by the eighth-best defense in the country. During that same span of time, Marquette has been 45th and Butler has been 72nd.

Xavier's four remaining opponents have been underperforming outside of Providence. While the Friars have been 21st in the nation in that time, DePaul (132), Georgetown (83), and Butler (72) have all been slipping down the stretch.

Xavier has to hold serve tomorrow against DePaul. If they do that, split the road games, and knock off Butler at home on senior night, they'll be 9-9 in conference, 20-12 overall, and probably comfortable with their bubble position heading into the Big East tournament.

The problem is, even that might not be enough to avoid playing on Wednesday. If Butler, Xavier, and Marquette all finish at 9-9, Xavier trails in the tiebreakers by virtue of having - even in the above scenario - gone just 1-3 against the other two teams, each of which would hold at least a 2-2 record against the other two teams in question.

Of course, Xavier can avoid all this by going 4-0 down the stretch. If they don't, they'll need help from a team that isn't currently playing well to get the Wednesday bye. Even playing on Wednesday wouldn't be the worst thing if X goes into that game with 20 wins, as it would give them a shot at another Q2 win for the resume and the potential to build a little momentum. The problem is they'd end up with one of Creighton, Nova, and Seton Hall, each of which would be a tough ask (but a huge resume win) at the Garden.

With 4 games left on the schedule, it's still all to play for in the Big East. Xavier controls its own fate to an extent, but there's a lot of hill to climb if they want a favorable draw in the Big East tournament.