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Just a little peek ahead

College basketball is about March. That’s still a long way off, but a glance that way is pertinent now.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: JAN 15 Marquette at Xavier
Back on the tracks
Photo by Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Usually I take Monday morning to catch everyone up on the goings on in the NET. I even have a fun little title that I’m proud of and essentially no one else has noticed. 90% of the time, that’s a good use of the first day of the week. It’s a grounding, a look at the wider world of college basketball to see Xavier’s place in it. It’s a reminder that this truly is a marathon.

But marathons end at some point. No one sets out on an excruciatingly long run and doesn’t pick their head up to have a look at the finish line from time to time. College basketball’s marathon ends in March, when four and a half months of pacing turn into a three week sprint to the line. It’s time to have a glance ahead at that line for some renewed motivation and a reminder that some of the hard yards are done.

First off, Xavier is eighth in the new AP poll. The AP poll is filled out, apparently, at least in some part by people don’t know, understand, or follow basketball and is a anachronism in the day and age of advanced metrics. It truly is stupid and I cannot overstate that. I also refuse to carry that belief to the point I’m not excited about being in the top 10.

In things that actually matter, Xavier is doing nearly as well. In the NET the Musketeers are 17th and have a glittering 5-2 record in quad one. (Indiana has dropped to Q2, but Florida is Q1.) In the KenPom Xavier is all the way up to 15th. The last time Xavier was up in that rarefied air was all the way back last season, when the Musketeers were 14-3 and 18th in the KenPom on January 19th.* It has been since the 2017-18 season that Xavier hit the top 10 of the AP poll.

Xavier has also won 11 straight. Not all of them have been works of art, but the two home wins over Creighton and Marquette showed a team that can dig in and get wins when things get very tough. The defense is alarmingly bad, but the Musketeers have a knack for getting stops when it matters. Xavier has to go back on the road on Wednesday, but it’s to DePaul. The Blue Demons and their morally compromised coach are thanking god each day that Georgetown exists so no one notices how bad they are.

So March. Teams with profiles like Xavier’s hilariously divergent offense and defense are hard for metrics to forecast because no team in the current era has played so fast, so well on offense, and so badly on defense. Ask a computer to spit out some comps and you’ll see teams that get upset early and teams that play in the second weekend. What you will also see is that all of those teams are in the tournament.

That first weekend of games is a highlight of the year. A slightly warmer breeze blows, you can open a couple windows, and everyone can gather at the home of the relative with the biggest tv and watch wall to wall basketball. The last several seasons have missed that special fun agony that comes with watching Xavier play in a game that well and truly matters.

If the season were to end right now, everyone is in agreement that Xavier’s tournament drought would end with it. Run Bart Torvik’s TourneyCast and Xavier shows as having a 100% chance of making the tournament. Bart isn’t hedging his bets, he’s saying Xavier is in. Right now, Torvik has Xavier as the second best four seed, just barely behind Gonzaga. (Going just by Wins Above Bubble Xavier would be a two seed.)

Over on Bracket Matrix all 68 of the lunatics already filling out brackets have Xavier in the tournament. There, the Musketeers profile as a three seed with a high of two and a low of five. What that means is that the premier metric that projects the field and all of the people who currently project the field think that, were the season ending now, Xavier would be in the tournament.

There is a long way to go before that glorious first Thursday in March. Xavier still has 13 regular season games and a trip to Madison Square Garden before the teams will be announced 56 days from now. There is reason to be very excited now, though. Glance up at that finish line. It’s getting closer and the crowd around it looks gleeful. Then, put your head down and keep going. It’s not downhill from here, but the miles ahead promise more hope than pain.

*Don’t lose in all the justified excitement about this year’s team that last season things also looked extremely good. On that date in January the Musketeers were even higher in the NET than they are now and had nearly as many good wins. It’s good to be excited and happy, but remember things can change fast.