clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The toughest test of the year

Xavier’s sternest test of 2022 comes on its very final day.

NCAA Basketball: Villanova at Connecticut David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Top 25 teams aren’t usually the underdog at their own arena, but such is life for Xavier right now. While there is no betting line yet set, there is no metric that sees the Musketeers as a favorite or even a push right now. That is no slight to Xavier, who is on quite a run right now, and everything to do with the UConn Huskies.

Joel is working on the preview and the breakdown of the matchups right now, but suffice to say that UConn is tough. How tough? Right now the Huskies are second in the KenPom, fourth in Torvik, and second in NET. Pick a metric and UConn is in the top four. That’s not an exaggeration. Every metric that will appear on a team sheet come Selection Sunday has the Huskies in the top four. Their SOR is first. This team is a juggernaut.

Xavier has faced down a similar team before. Back in the heyday of the Jay Wright Villanova teams, the Wildcats were frequently in the running for the best team in the nation all season long. The most recent of those matchups was February 17th of 2018. Nova led by 14 at the half at the Cintas and essentially mopped the floor with the Musketeers all game long. That particular Xavier team went on to be a one seed and pulled off a neat magic trick by making Trevon Blueitt disappear in an NCAA tournament game. I digress.

Earlier that year the Wildcats had beaten Xavier by 24 at Wells Fargo. The year before Nova had beaten X by a combined total of 41. The year before that Nova had beaten X by 31(!) away but, in a rare turn of events, the Musketeers had won by seven at home. Go back one more year and you run into an Arizona team ranked fourth in the KenPom in the Sweet 16. Xavier also lost that one.

So in X’s last ten (there were two more Nova and a Gonzaga in there) games against teams in the top five in the metrics, they are 1-9. That’s not encouraging, but it’s not exactly as bad as it seems. Here’s why.

You shouldn’t beat teams in the top five. There are 363 teams in DI basketball. The top five of those are very, very good. Even Xavier’s best teams haven’t hit those heights. You don’t get into that tier of teams by not being essentially the best. This season so far that is Houston, UConn, Tennessee, UCLA, and Kansas. They have lost a combined six games, three of them to teams in the top ten.

There is also the Villanova factor in play here. Eight of those ten games came against Villanova, a team that Chris Mack just could not figure out how to beat. He even went to so far as to describe the trip to Nova as (advisory for mildly bad language, kids) the “annual ass kicking.” If a team ever had a mental block about another team, it was those Xavier teams and Villanova. The Musketeers managed to beat them once.

Finally, Xavier has Sean Miller now. Who knows how much that means in terms of points or game flow, but it makes a difference. Chris Mack was a good coach, Travis Steele was a coach, Sean Miller is the best coach Xavier has ever had and is second only to Lute Olson at Arizona. UConn also has a good coach, but for all Dan Hurley is, he’s not Sean Miller.

The toughest game of 2022 falls on the last day of 2022. Xavier hasn’t fared well in these games before, but there is reason for hope this time. These aren’t supposed to be winnable games, but this isn’t Villanova, and Sean Miller is back. Why not win a big one?