Xavier Looks Ahead After Squandering Golden Opportunity Last Week

Posted by Brad Cavallaro on November 27th, 2018

Despite losing its three leading scorers from last season, Xavier was expected to remain relevant in the Big East race. Trevon Bluiett, JP Macura and Kerem Kanter all averaged double-figure points for the Musketeers last season, but returnees like Naji Marshall and Quentin Goodin were anticipated to fill the void. No one thought Xavier was set to replicate last season’s #1 seed level of success, but a sixth straight NCAA Tournament bid seemed completely attainable. With a 1-2 trip to the Maui Invitational now in the rear view, however, the Musketeers have squandered a golden opportunity to build their non-conference resume.

Xavier’s 1-2 Trip to Maui Puts a Significant Strain on Its NCAA At-Large Resume (USA Today Images)

For most of last week’s first round game against Auburn, it looked like Xavier had hit the jackpot. Ultimately, however, the Tigers prevailed in overtime with dynamic guards Jared Harper and Bryce Brown combining for 51 points in an overtime victory. Xavier was fortunate enough to have another opportunity for a quality win in the consolation round, though, as San Diego State should remain in the season-long discussion for a bid out of the Mountain West. The Musketeers built a substantial lead in the early portion of the first half of that game, but the Aztecs stormed back late and earned a five-point win. That loss meant Xavier was relegated to the seventh place game where they stopped the bleeding by defeating a struggling Illinois team. Given that the Fighting Illini will likely finish in the bottom three of the Big Ten this season, the win didn’t have much long-term at-large value. Xavier shot the ball extremely well in that game, but they were sloppy with the ball far too often.

Marshall, Goodin and Paul Scruggs will lead Xavier this season, but the fate of these Musketeers lies in their complementary players. The center duo of Zach Hankins and Tyrique Jones has played very well thus far, but Xavier needs more out of graduate transfers Ryan Welage and Kyle Castlin to reach its goals. After scoring 17 points against Auburn, Welage was held scoreless in the next two games. He is an essential piece to the offense in that he provides necessary floor spacing and offensive firepower in the frontcourt. Elias Harden played extremely well last week too, and Xavier could become even more dangerous offensively if he can consistently contribute to the effort.

Xavier has seven non-conference games remaining and Travis Steele‘s team will need to win all of them (including away games in the Crosstown Shootout and at Missouri) to feel comfortable with its at-large resume. Given the Big East’s early struggles, the Musketeers cannot simply rely on conference play to earn quality wins this season. Teams like Villanova (already happening) and Marquette (nice win over Louisville) could change that narrative over the next month, but Xavier cannot depend on their success alone. The notion is to take care of its own business over the next month and leave nothing to chance.

The good news is Xavier should be favored in six of their seven remaining non-conference games, but the game at Cincinnati could ultimately make or break Xavier’s season. On top of being a heated rivalry game, it is the last opportunity for Xavier to pick up a truly meaningful win in the non-conference schedule. It will not be impossible for Xavier to make the NCAA Tournament if it loses to the Bearcats, but Musketeer fans may have some sleepless nights in March as their team’s fate would be in the hands and whimsy of the selection committee.

Brad Cavallaro (16 Posts)

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