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Results matter

Xavier has good ones. Do they have enough of them?

NCAA Basketball: Providence at Xavier Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

If you look at the raw metrics like Bart Torvik and KenPom.com, Xavier is a bubble team. They’re 39th on Torvik and 44th on the KenPom; the cut line for at-large bids usually covers the top 40 or so teams in the country, so X is right there for snagging an invite to the Big Dance.

According to Eamonn Brennan’s Bubble Watch, Xavier is in the “work to do” category, which, considering the above, kind of makes sense.

I’m not sure I buy it though. Xavier is 30th in the polls - and I know we bang on how dumb the polls are as an assessment of how good a team is, which they are. What the polls are better at doing is evaluating what a team has accomplished on the year. It’s less about how good a team is and more about how good a team’s results have been. Xavier’s - as few as there are - have been largely excellent.

Xavier is 1-1 in Quad 1, which is fine. They’re also 4-1 in Quad 2. Xavier’s two losses are at Creighton - and they had a game-tying shot in the air with less than a minute left - and getting run off their own floor by Seton Hall. That Quad 1 win is beating the fire out of Oklahoma, a team that has looked excellent in literally every game other than losing to X by 22, a defeat that alone nearly equals the combined margin in their other four losses.

The Muskies are also 6-0 in the bottom two quads, and none of their games in danger of falling from Q2 to Q3 - wins over Butler and Cincinnati - are losses. That Q3/4 record of whatever-0 is secure for the time being.

If you wanted to compile this whole argument into a single number, the Wins Above Bubble (WAB) metric on Bart Torvik’s page is as good as any. For the uninitiated, it takes the efficiency profile of an average bubble team, runs it through the schedule a given team has faced so far, and then compares the team’s record to the bubble profile’s results. Xavier, at 11-2, has compiled 2.1 WAB.

That’s 22nd in the nation. If you were filling out a WAB bracket, Xavier would land somewhere in the 5/6 seed range.

The difference between efficiency and WAB is made up in either luck or execution, depending on how fatalistic your worldview is. Xavier is 5-1 in what Bart Torvik calls close games. I don’t know his exact definition of “close”, but I’ll bet you can ballpark it by sifting through your memory banks for games after which you exhaled really hard. KenPom says Xavier is the 12th-luckiest team in that nation - the definition of luck is here, though he got me to go from curious to trusting when he started in on the correlated gaussian method - which speaks to how many close games have gone their way.

When the Selection Show rolls on Selection Sunday, the committee will have tried to choose the 68 most accomplished (or auto-biddiest) teams in the nation, not necessarily the best ones. The Muskies have put themselves in a great spot with what they’ve accomplished so far this season.