Xavier staggered in January. Coming off a solid if unspectacular non-conference slate, the Musketeers hit Big East play and promptly started losing early and often. The drop from 11-2 and in the AP top 25 to 13-8 and off the bubble was precipitous. Xavier was in trouble and needed a way out. A ladder out of the hole, if you will.
The Big East was there with that ladder (and a shovel, if we're being honest). The Musketeers had chances to get right and they took them. Instead of wandering in the conference wilderness, they grabbed back to back Q1 wins, clawed through the detritus of the mid majors clogging the bottom of the bubble, and hoisted their heads out of the hole for the first time since conference play started. Now breathing fresh air, Xavier has a chance to save their season without needing any Big East Tournament heroics.
The Musketeers have six Q1 games and two Q2 games remaining. That is a gift, because only good wins and no bad losses remain on the schedule. Losing to Providence or DePaul at home wouldn't be ideal, but neither adds a black mark to the resume.
That isn't life on the bubble for the rest of the nation. In a similar situation to Xavier is VCU. The Rams currently have three Q1 or Q2 wins to Xavier's seven. They have the chance for only two more big wins and three Q2. Best case scenario for them is ending the season with one More high quadrant win than Xavier has right now. More importantly, hurdles abound. Of VCU's nine remaining games, four would constitute bad losses and two, George Mason and George Washington, would be crippling. The Rams can't just focus on grabbing good wins, content that the conference will bolster them, they have to tiptoe a minefield of disaster the rest of the way. Lose just one Q3 game and their argument weakens significantly. Fellow A10 bubble riders Rhode Island are in the same boat. Lose to #266 Fordham or #177 UMass on the road and enjoy explaining to the committee why you deserve to be in over a team with no bad losses.
UC finds themselves in a similar position in contending with the Holiday Inn of conferences that is the AAC. (Not nice, thinks it is). The Bearcats are playing better basketball now, but only have two more Q1 and three Q2 games on the schedule. Three Q3 games loom with South Florida hanging right on the verge of falling off the Q2 line. Add a fourth Q3 loss and the Bearcats find themselves wishing they hadn’t lost a home game to Colgate. WIthout the benefit of a strong conference the only way to get in is to hope that the bad losses don’t outweigh a thin top of the resume.
Teams like ETSU in the Southern, Yale in the Ivy, and Northern Iowa in the MVC all find themselves in the same place. While the Big East spreads in front of Xavier like a land of hard earned opportunity, those teams have to pray that any loss them may have comes in their one remaining Q2 game. Drop a Q3 or Q4, and the reasonable at large argument goes out the window. Akron in the MAC is a prime example of this. On January 17th they were 39th in the NET. Conference losses to Toledo, Buffalo, and (gross) Kent State have dropped Akron to 85th in the NET and completely out of the bubble conversation. Beating Bowling Green at home or Western Michigan on the road aren’t likely to impress anyone.
So thank goodness for the Big East. Make no mistake, Xavier has to earn what could come to them. With the chance for big wins comes the realization that the teams that build the resume are also the teams capable of beating the Musketeers. Still, all Xavier has to do is win. They control their own fate. Other bubble teams are not so fortunate.
For more discussion on Xavier’s bubble chances, and how Tyrique Jones is dragging the Musketeers back into it, give a listen to Banter on the Parkway from this week.