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Xavier closed non-conference play with a resume on life support; here's how they can revive it in the Big East

Making the tournament is the ground floor for expectations around this program. They've left themselves some work to do to get there this season.

Syndication: The Enquirer
I, too, was angry enough to strike the advertising boards at points this season.
Carter Skaggs/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK

It's no secret: Xavier had a bad non-conference season this year. And by a bad season I mean they had a bad eight-day stretch. The Muskies woke up on Monday, November 27 with .1 Wins Above Bubble, basically a team on track to sneak into the tournament. By the time we were all snuggled into bed on Tuesday, December 5, they were at -1.7. That's bad. If the season ended that day, Xavier would have been frozen out of everything.

The season didn't end that day though, and the Muskies have breathed a little life back into their resume by knocking off UC and Winthrop. They head into Big East play with -1.1 WAB. That still isn't good, but it does serve to show what a decent stretch can do for a team that still has plenty of games left to play.

The committee doesn't fill the bracket by WAB, of course. A decent shorthand for a team's tournament hopes can be found in the quadrants by which games are broken down. Xavier is currently 0-2 in Q1 and 2-1 in Q2. Of greater concern is their 0-2 record in Q3 games. Of no concern at all is their 4-0 record in Q4. You can make the tournament with 2 Q3 losses; it gets really dodgy if you add to that number at all.

The Muskies are currently 6-5; they've got 20 Big East games left on the calendar. For grins and giggs, I'm going to say they need 13 more wins to be a decent bubble team come Selection Sunday. If you bank on a win in the first round of the conference tournament, that leaves the Muskies hunting a 12-8 conference record to make their case. Let's break down Xavier's remaining schedule to see if we can chart a course back into this thing.

The non-negotiables

I'm not going to spend too much time breaking these down. These are games that Xavier just has to win, or more accurately, can't afford to lose.

Seton Hall, 12/23

Georgetown, 1/19

@ DePaul, 2/3

DePaul, 2/28

@ Georgetown, 3/4

Each of those games would be a Q3 or Q4 loss and cost Xavier anywhere between .72 and .91 WAB. Losing even one of them would mean the Muskies would basically have to be flawless the rest of the way.

Five games, five wins. That leaves 15 more games on offer and Xavier needing to go 7-8.

The chances to make hay

Everything from here out is Q1 or Q2. These aren't games that would be super damaging to lose, but they would be extremely beneficial to win. In isolation, a loss isn't devastating; on aggregate, they could still bury X.

@ St. John's, 12/20

Butler, 1/16

St. John's, 1/31

Villanova, 2/7

@ Seton Hall, 2/14

Providence, 2/21

@ Butler, 3/6

Those are 7 games that Bart Torvik has worth between .36 and .58 WAB with Xavier having at least a 40% chance to win (except @ St. John's, which he gives just 33%). These are not easy games at all, but they represent Xavier's best chances at bolstering the resume.

The math on the win probabilities on these comes out to 3.6 wins for the Muskies. That plainly won't cut it. A 4-3 record is the bare minimum, but I think Xavier needs to go 5-2 in these games to set themselves up to make an at-large case. The remaining games are rough.

The big swings

These are the ones that are left. They're all Q1 and they all tough. Xavier can bolster the resume in a huge way with each of these games; these will be headliners come Selection Sunday.

@ Villanova, 1/3

Connecticut, 1/10

@ Providence, 1/13

@ Creighton, 1/23

@ Connecticut, 1/28

Creighton, 2/10

@ Marquette, 2/25

Marquette, 3/9

That's eight games that could make or break Xavier's season, and realistically they're going to need to win at least two of them. My man Bart Torvik sees Xavier winning just over that, but that's fueled by 40% win probability in the home games against Creighton and Marquette, which seems high to me. I'm not a mathematical genius though, so maybe he knows better than I do.

There's more than 5.5 WAB up for grabs here. That's monstrous, the kind of number that can singlehandedly swing a season. Winning even three of them would give Xavier a net positive in WAB in this group of games. It's a huge mountain to climb, but it's where the outcome of Xavier's Selection Sunday could be determined.

That's the long and short of it from my angle. The Muskies have to win all five of the non-negotiables and more than hold their own in the other fifteen. They have a great chance to come out swinging on Wednesday with the game at St. John's, and they back that up with a must-win home opener against Seton Hall. Get both of those and they're cooking with gas heading into the new year. Trip over the first hurdle and it's a long way back.