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Sitting Pretty

Xavier has put the hard yards in already and is commanding position for an NCAA tournament bid. Now they just have to not mess that up.

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

In the last full season Xavier played, the one that ended with the players learning at the half against DePaul that the tournament was unlikely to be played, the Musketeers hit Valentine’s Day as something of a rolling shambles. They were 16-9 overall, 5-7 in the Big East, and had just lost to Butler. That is a cut line resume, and it was on the edges either side of that line where Xavier played all the rest of that year.

Last season Xavier hit the day saved for hearts and fat babies with deadly weapons at 11-3, 4-3 in the Big East. Other than a demolition of Oklahoma at home, the Musketeers didn’t have much on the resume to suggest they were a for sure inclusion in the tournament field. ESPN had them as “should be in” with the caveat that they had to add a couple good wins the rest of the way. WAB suggested there was work to do. Xavier didn’t do it, and they didn’t make the tournament.

This season is not like those. X sits as a solid six on the Bracket Matrix right now. In WAB, a metric that the committee will take into consideration, the Musketeers are 32nd in the nation. (That DePaul loss didn’t help at all.) That’s a good but not great number. What is great is Xavier’s 20th in the NET and 9-6 record in the top two quads. X is 25th in the KenPom and 24th in the Massey Composite. There is no college basketball ranking system that has Xavier lower than 38th, and that is the Davis, which has UAB at 28th, Murray State at 20th, and Boise St above the Musketeers.

What all that means is that Xavier remains, even after the DePaul loss, in a very good position for a bid. Win just the two must win games, St. John’s at home and Georgetown, and the Musketeers still have a 90% chance of making the field before the Big East tournament.* Win just the home games, which means going 3-3 the rest of the way, and that jumps to 97% and a six seed. Anything more than that and Xavier starts looking less like a team looking at its resume and more like a team hoping for matchups that can carry it to the Sweet 16.

Xavier is in a good spot this year. Barring an absolute collapse in which they win only one of their last six, the tournament is all but assured. The last two seasons were not enjoyable down the stretch. This one carries much more promise.

Yesterday I wrote that Xavier could possibly play well enough to earn a chance to play in Cincinnati. That is wrong. The tournament will not be held in Cincy this year, something that someone will have to inform the NCAA about. The current Selection Sunday homepage still lists the Queen City as one of the first round sites.

*Based on Bart Torvik’s tool for analyzing the resumes and results for previous tournaments.