On December 22nd, bolstered more by the Christmas spirit than results, I insisted there was reason for Xavier fans to keep hope alive this season. The main reason for hope was that Xavier’s defense was good and the offense couldn’t possibly stay as bad as it was.
Well, the offense hasn’t really gotten a lot better in that span. Over the last 10 games the Musketeers have an adjusted efficiency of 114.4, which is 42nd in the nation. That’s decent, but not exactly setting the world alight. The defense, on the other hand, has crept up towards elite. They’re now 24th in the nation overall and 22nd over the last 10 games.
As things stand now Xavier is 35th in the NET, 26th in the KenPom, and 28th in Torvik. Over the last five games, that span since December 22nd, X is 10th in the nation in combined efficiency. Xavier still sits at -.8 wins above bubble. That, obviously, is a problem. All of the close losses to great teams and huge wins over decent teams are still shadowed by losing to Oakland and Delaware.
So, to the question everyone is perpetually asking: would Xavier be in if the tournament started today? The answer is a resounding... It depends! (Hey, that’s better than no.) We have mentioned that 37th in NET is something of a cut line. Please, friends, don’t use that as a bright line divider. Just because Xavier is above it now doesn’t mean they are in, dipping below it won’t necessarily mean they are out. It’s a guideline.
Last year on January 17th it was Utah State at 35th with two Q4 losses. They still made it. On Selection Sunday it was Miami. They also made it. So far, so good. Right now on Bart Torvik’s excellent Teamcast page he has Xavier as a nine seed with a 81.3% chance of making the tournament. That is all great news.
Here’s the problem, the proverbial cloud surrounding our silver lining. The Musketeers have used up almost all of their margin for error. A loss to DePaul, Georgetown, or even home against a struggling Providence could well be fatal. That’s what happens when you take two home losses to Q3 teams in buy games. (Flip those to wins and X is essentially a lock for the tournament.)
So the last five games have revived the season. The losses have been more missed opportunities than they have been damaging. The wins have been resounding and much needed. Bag another one against Georgetown come tomorrow and the Musketeers will have set themselves up well for two absolutely vital road games. After this most important week ever comes another one. It’s going to be like this the rest of the way, Xavier Nation, but we’re very much back in it.