Do you guys remember the Creighton game? I sure do. It seems like just yesterday that Xavier had a three-possession lead at the under-12 media timeout, looking for all the world like they would grab a vital Q1 win and launch their at-large hopes into the realm of tangible reality. It didn't quite pan out that way.
After watching such high hopes crash dive into a trench of despair, it's easy to catastrophize. From "we are so back", the downward momentum can easily carry you right into "it's so over".
I'm here to tell you that's not the case. Let's take a quick look at how Xavier can play themselves back onto the bubble.
First, a quick refresher on where X is now. Nineteen games into the season, the Muskies are 2-6 in Q1 and 3-1 in Q2. Thanks to Bryant clawing all the way back up to 141st in the NET, Xavier does now have a Q3 win, though it is accompanied by two brutal losses. The 4-0 Q4 record is immaterial.
Xavier's remaining games break down as follows: 6 in Q1, 3 in Q2, 1 in Q3, and 2 in Q4.
So how does Xavier fight back in? It's very simple: win every remaining home game, plus every game against Georgetown and DePaul. That's it; that's literally all it takes (I think).
In real life chronological order, that looks like this:
L @ UConn 1/28
W v. St. John's 1/31
W @ DePaul 2/3
W v. Nova 2/7
W v. Creighton 2/10
L @ Seton Hall 2/14
W v. Providence 2/21
L @ Marquette 2/25
W v. DePaul 2/28
W @ Georgetown 3/2
L @ Butler 3/6
W v. Marquette 3/9
Those are the games we know about. "But Joel," I hear you typing because your keyboard is so loud or my ears are that sharp, "Selection Sunday isn't March 10. What about the Big East Tournament?"
Well, that's the beauty of the plan. This set of results probably keeps Xavier out of the 8/9 game and almost as assuredly doesn't vault them into the top 5. What does that leave?
A first round game against Georgetown or DePaul, which the plan already accounts for. Then you play the 2 or the 3 seed, which is almost certainly a Q1 game. It's not at home and it's not against Georgetown or DePaul, so there's no operational pressure under this plan to win it. X bows out there, and goes into Selection Sunday with the following resume:
4-11 in Q1
6-1 in Q2
3-2 in Q3
6-0 in Q4
Does that get you in? Well, last year Arizona State had a 9-11 record in the top 2 quads and a Q4 loss and still made it. Utah State had just 2 Q1 wins to go with a glistening 9-1 in Q2 but 2 Q4 losses and earned a 10 seed. Nevada was 8-8 Q1/2 with just 1 Q1 win to go with 2 Q3 losses, and they snuck in to Dayton.
It's not all good news from a season ago though. Clemson was 7-6 against quads 1 and 2 and had 2 Q3 losses and 2 Q4 losses; they were one of the first four out. Oregon had the resume that maybe resembled this theoretical Xavier the most: 19-14 overall, 12-8 in conference, 9-13 in Q1/2, 1 Q3 loss. Not only did they not make the tournament, they weren't in the First 4 Out. They did have just 2 Q1 wins, but it's not a super encouraging note to end on.
So I won't.
On the face of it, Xavier has a shot at putting together a competitive resume. A lot hinges on the four-game winning streak I've laid out that begins after the UConn game. Xavier has played everyone in the conference tough (except for St. John's), so it doesn't seem outside the realm of possibility that they could defend the home court from here on in. And Q1 roadies against Butler and Seton Hall still loom; are they there for the taking?
Maybe there's some wiggle room. Maybe we meet back here in a couple weeks and talk about needing the auto bid. For now, there's still plenty of road ahead for the Muskies to make hay (if you'll pardon the mixed metaphor).
Win at home. Beat the dregs of the conference. Go dancing.