Muskies Hunting Wins with Three Regular Season Games Left!!
By Andy Mac Williams, 2/24/2017

Xavier basketball's marching orders for late February and early March are crystal clear. Step one-Secure the highest possible seed for the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Step two-Lock down a bid for the NCAA Tourney field of 68. Wins are the currency here. With three regular season games left,the Muskies make themselves NCAA bid bullet proof IMHO and lock-up at least a #4 Big East Tourney slot by winning twice. Not so fast you may say!!

XU's lost 4 in a row(home to Villanova and at Providence,Marquette and Seton Hall).The Muskies are averaging just 61PPG during the bad streak and they're losing by an average of 14PPG. Turnovers and poor free throw shooting are a recurring negative.

I'm optimistic as usual!! First off-the coaches and players are engaged and confident they can get the job done. I've seen Chris Mack and crew stage late regular season NCAA pushes in both 2014 and 2015 to secure Big East Play-in game byes and NCAA bids under worse circumstances and less favorable numbers than we are dealing with here in 2017.

The schedule is crowded(3 games in 6 days),but favorable(Butler and Marquette at Cintas-DePaul in Chicago). Trevon Bluiett should be close to full function for Butler at Cintas Sunday(3:30 Tip-FS1) after a day off Thursday and practices Friday and Saturday. And this Muskie group is in desperation mode which guarantees maximum effort !!

FIRST THINGS FIRST-NO BIG EAST BOTTOM FOUR:

The Muskies have avoided a Wednesday Play-in game at MSG their first three years in the Big East. One more win would put XU at 9-9 in the league and probably slot them in the Top 6 with the day off Wednesday March 8th in NYC. Two wins probably places Xavier(10-8) in the 4 Seed-5 Seed game in Thursday's Quarterfinals(2:30 start),but a 3 Seed might be possible if Creighton struggles over its last three games.Even with 3 wins(Butler,Marquette and at DePaul) there's no way for the Muskies to grab the #2 Seed. Butler's already at 11 victories and they own the tie breaker with 2 wins over #1 Seed Villanova.

NEXT-NCAA AT LARGE BID:

Xavier is 18-10 currently with a 22 NCAA RPI( way better power rating and Strength of Schedule than heading into the final week of the regular season in 2014 and 2015). The negatives are 4 straight losses and a 3-4 February record. IF XU were to lose the next four including their first game in NYC,they certainly would be left out of the NCAAs.

I'd guess 3 losses to wind-up the regular schedule would force Xavier to make the Big East Final with 3 wins at MSG. That would put the record at 21-13 and might not require a 4th NYC win to secure the Big East automatic NCAA bid. Who knows?? 9-9 going into NYC might demand a Quarterfinal win over a good equally rested team(Marquette or Creighton). 10-8 in my mind eliminates the need for a win in NYC to insure an NCAA trip.

HOW MANY BIG EAST NCAA BIDS??

Villanova and Butler are mortal locks.Creighton is almost there(like 99%). The Blue Jays are 22-6,9-6 in the BE with a loss for sure Saturday at Villanova(Senior Day at the Pavilion-Hart,Jenkins and Reynolds have never lost back to back games in four years). CU's been a box of chocolates since the Mo Watson injury. They have run and gun St Johns in Omaha followed by a road finale at Marquette. A win over the Johnnies Tuesday should put Creighton in the NCAAs.

Xavier has a strong chance as NCAA Team 4 with two more wins-either regular season or one regular season and one more in NYC. Somebody between Seton Hall-Marquette and Providence should get a 5th bid. SHU has the best current RPI(46). They should win at DePaul and home against Georgetown,but they play Butler at Hinkle on Senior Day to close-out the regular season.

The Pirates may well need a win at MSG. Marquette has the worst RPI(69) and the toughest schedule(at Providence.at Xavier,home to Creighton). Providence(53 RPI) could sweep three(Marquette,DePaul,at St Johns) but can their young guns be that consistent? Xavier stays above the fray by winning 2 of 3(Butler,Marquette,at De Paul)-avoiding the Play-in game and just putting the uniform on at MSG.

SCOUTING BUTLER:

The Bulldogs are riding high after their mid-week win over Villanova in Philadelphia(74-66). BU controlled tempo-overcame a 9 point second half deficit-shared the ball(21 assists on 27 made FGs)-drilled their FTs and coaxed VU into settling for too many threes(6-24). Nova seemed to run out of gas trying to extend their 48 game home court win streak. Senior Center Darryl Reynolds sat out again with sore ribs so Coach Wright went with just a 6 man rotation and no true post player.

Butler is 22-6 overall and 11-5 in the Big East. They're probably locked into the #2 Seed for the Big East Tourney(If Villanova beats Creighton in Philly Some Saturday,VU clinches their 4th straight BE regular season title). The Dawg's RPI is a lofty#11. They are 9-2 against RPI Top 50 teams with wins over Northwestern,Cincinnati,Arizona and Indiana plus two wins over Villanova.

BU's 4-1 in February. Coach Chris Holtman has settled on an 8 man rotation-injecting new starters recently and playing 4 guards almost equal minutes while mixing in a diversified group of 4 BIGS. Butler took out Xavier 83-78 in Indie on January 14th. The Muskies played a strong disciplined first half but saw a double digit lead shrink to 31-25 at the break.BU went nuts in the second half scoring 58 points and converting 33 FTs. XU fueled their fastbreak with 16 turnovers. Frosh guard Kamar Baldwin was unstoppable(21 points after halftime-9 rebounds). XU threatened late but could not get defensive stops.

THE BUTLER WAY:

BU is a patient low turnover half court team. They bury your defense in a blizzard of ball screens and make you play long defensive possessions. Defensively,their man-to-man has really improved. They could show more zone vs XU considering the Muskies' lack of accuracy from outside the arc. Their guards do apply strong ball pressure in the halfcourt(especially the uber athletic Baldwin). Steals and run-out baskets are more prevalent now.

Three Senior transfer guards see big minutes. Kethan Savage(George Washington) starts-has size(6-3,205) and is steady(4 assists-4 steals at VU). Avery Woodson(Memphis) starts also and is averaging 13PPG over the last 5. He's a killer three point sniper. Tyler Lewis(NC State) is coming off the bench. He was poison at Villanova(8 second half points) and is a great assist guy(28 assists-just 5 turnovers the last 5 games). Baldwin is super quick. He was awesome at VU(15 points-7-11 FGs).

6-7 Senior Andrew Chrabascz is the indispensable glue guy-point forward. BU can run the offense through him on the middle post or let the PGs initiate. 6-8,240 Junior Tyler Wideman provides inside muscle and a nasty edge.

6-7 Junior Kelan Martin is coming off the bench now(15PPG-6 Rebs). He shoots it quickly at times and just wore Villanova out(22 points). Moeller HS grad Nate Fowler(6-10,240 Sophomore) has fought his way into prime time minutes(19 and 15 point games recently).

HOW DOES XAVIER WIN THIS??

Xavier should be highly motivated by their somewhat dire circumstances plus the home court advantage. Butler,hopefully,with a Villanova win Saturday vs Creighton will be stuck at the #2 Big East Seed. Their incentive is more abstract moving up the NCAA seeding pecking order while XU is fighting to just make the Dance.

BU is deeper and a more efficient offensive team. They out-Villanova-ed Villanova the other day by making free throws-controlling the tempo-not turning the ball over and winning 50-50 ball battles. Xavier needs to channel their emotion and passion into out Butlering-Butler. 16 turnovers will not get the job done. FT misses have to be minimal.

The BIGS have to produce. Rashid Gaston has to return to form and avoid foul trouble. Kaiser Gates has to chip in some extra offense to go along with his impressive rebounding. Tyrique Jones has to bang with Wideman. X needs post offense from Sean O'Mara. Bluiett and Macura have to be the Muskies' best players.

Quentin Gooden needs to step up in his match-up against fellow frosh Baldwin. XU has been done in this season by porous second half defense. Fatigue because of the injuries and the depleted bench has led to scoring droughts and lack of consistent defensive stops. It's time to dig deep and put a complete game gritty 40 minute effort together. Xavier 72 Butler 68.




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