Xavier on the Cusp of Returning to the NCAA TournamentPosted by Brian Otskey on March 14th, 2014
Brian Otskey is reporting from the Big East Tournament all week
After missing the NCAA Tournament last year for only the second time since 2000, Xavier head coach Chris Mack made it clear to his team what the goal was this season. “Every time we play a game from day one, from game one up until tonight, we always wrote the four letters in the top right of the white board [in the locker room] that said NCAA’ because deep down that’s been a goal of these guys,” said the fifth year Musketeers coach. On a day that saw more dramatics reminding us of moments from years gone by in this event, Xavier was all business in taking care of Marquette and solidifying itsNCAA Tournament hopes. Xavier’s 68-65 win over Marquette was number 21 on the year for Mack’s squad and should be enough to ensure the Musketeers return to the NCAA Tournament next week. Xavier was out-shot and out-rebounded by the pesky Golden Eagles but it was able to get to the free throw line regularly and surprisingly won the turnover battle, two things Marquette head coach Buzz Williams said were key reasons why his team failed to advance to Friday night’s semifinal round. “We turned the ball over too many times in a lower than normal possession game,” said Williams. He was absolutely right as his team failed to take advantage of a Xavier club that ranks near the bottom of the Big East in both offensive and defensive turnover percentage.
In particular it was Justin Martin who provided a spark for Xavier in the win. He shot the ball very well en route to a 19-point performance and did not turn the ball over once. This was a physical game contested heavily in the paint, your typical grind it out Big East style of game that didn’t feature many transition opportunities. Xavier was buoyed by the return of Matt Stainbrook, who suffered a sprained MCL in the team’s loss at Seton Hall on March 3. Stainbrook only played 15 minutes but contributed eight points and gave the Musketeers a much-needed presence in the paint on both ends of the floor. Marquette tried to mount a charge at the end but a questionable shot by Todd Mayo sealed the deal. After the game, Williams actually asked the assembled media how the NIT selection process works, claiming he was not familiar with it.
For Xavier, the most important thing it accomplished last night was avoiding a loss to a team that won’t be participating in the NCAA Tournament. The Musketeers are very likely already in the field of 68 but can punch leave no doubt whatsoever by knocking off Creighton in tonight’s second semifinal matchup. Xavier entered last night’s game against Marquette with an RPI of 51 and quality wins over the likes of Tennessee, Cincinnati and Providence. Despite a pair of ugly losses to Seton Hall and an early season setback at the hands of USC, Xavier’s resume looks pretty good when stacked up against other bubble teams around the nation. After Thursday night, little doubt remains about whether or not the Musketeers will hear Greg Gumbel call their name on Sunday evening no matter what happens tonight against Creighton.