Muskies Face Second Straight "MUST WIN"!!!
By Andy Mac Williams, 3/6/2017

Hope springs eternal for Xavier!! They kept their NCAA Tournament chances alive Saturday afternoon in Chicagoland with a grinding workmanlike 79-65 win over DePaul. Now XU has to do it again-Wednesday evening(9:30-Madison Square Garden-NYC-Fox Sports 1) in the Big East Play-in Round against the DePaul Blue Demons. A Xavier win in the Big Apple Wednesday does not guarantee a berth in the NCAA Field of 68,but it comes darn close.

XU's current resume' doesn't look too bad(19-12 overall-9-9 in the Big East-#32 in NCAA RPI-Top 10 Strength of Schedule-no so called "bad" losses). An "L" to DePaul would change that "bad Loss" status though and probably prick the Muskies' NCAA bubble.

Currently(Monday March 6th),Xavier is included in 111 of 113 published NCAA brackets with an average seed of 10.57. By consensus then,XU is "in" the NCAA Tournament. Unfortunately,there are conference tournaments to be played and automatic bid stealers lurking around every corner.

If Xavier beats DePaul.they could be a 10 or 11 seed or a 12 seed with an NCAA Play-in game needed early next week at University of Dayton Arena or they could be one of the First Four out of the NCAAs. A win in Thursday night's Big East Quarterfinal Round versus #2 seed Butler(7PM-Fox Sports 1) would remove all doubt re NCAA inclusion. But BU would be rested(Play-in Game bye) and they beat Xavier twice in the regular season.

LET'S BE POSITIVE AND REVEL IN THE WIN AT DEPAUL!!

The 6 game losing streak is history. XU started slowly on the road under "must win"pressure. DePaul was hyped to start on Billy Garret's Senior Day and it was their final game at All State Arena after 30 plus years. DU led 9-0 and 14-6 after the second 4 minute war. The Muskies were a nervous 2-12 from the floor,but they were competing well.

J.P. Macura's festiness seemed to turn the tide. He and DePaul's Tre McCallum were Tee-d up after an exchange of nasty words. Blue Demon serial shooter Eli Cain was irritated by J.P. also.Xavier canned a bunch of wide open threes and quickly reeled DePaul in. XU started going inside efficiently.

PG Quentin Gooden consistently disrupted the DU defense with determined dribble drives and found the BIGS. Rashid Gaston scored 6 close to the basket. Xavier built a 33-28 lead that could have been larger,but DePaul closed to 33-30 at the half.

There were positives(Rally from 9 points down). Trevon Bluiett grabbed 8 rebounds,but hadn't shot it well. The turnovers were low. FT numbers were shakey again though. After the break,Xavier kept attacking inside(Tyrique Jones 7 early points). The Muskies changed zone defenses and DePaul started taking and settling for bad jump shots. Xavier slowly took control.

Bluiett started to make shots(24 points-17 in second half). Senior Malcolm Bernard played his third straight strong all court game(13 points-5 rebounds-2 assists(no turnovers)-2 steals). Malcolm has potted 39 points in the last 3 games!! It wasn't a work of art,but XU got the job done convincingly(79-65).

Tyrique Jones hit the floor hard in the final two minutes. Hopefully,Tyrique will be OK for Wednesday.That four man BIG rotation(Gaston-Gates-Jones-O'Mara) is working.

7 BIG EAST TEAMS IN THE NCAA??

Is this a plausible scenario? XU finished 9-9 in conference and they're seeded 7th in NYC. If the Muskies beat DePaul and Butler,the NCAA almost has to take 7 of the 10 BE teams. Villanova,Butler and Creighton are locks based on their whole body of work. Providence has won 6 in a row and grabbed the 3 BE seed. Marquette's won 4 of 5. They own wins over Villanova and Creighton and they beat Xavier twice. Seton Hall won at Butler Saturday and the Pirates have a four game win streak.

The Big East is rated the nation's #2 conference behind only the Big 12. Other leagues recently have gotten 7 teams into the dance(Big 12 the past 3 seasons-ACC 2007-Big Ten 2011,2013,2014,2015). The ACC this season may get 8,9 or even 10 into the NCAA. I'm trying to convince myself that 7 will fly. It's a mortal lock with two Muskie wins at MSG. Just the one win over DePaul and some doubt creeps in.

BIG EAST HAPPENINGS!!

Trevon Bluiett has made the All Big East First Team for the second straight season. He's showed plenty of grit-dealing with the ankle sprain. Bluiett re-injured the ankle vs Villanova then sat out at PC and at Marquette. He played against Seton Hall at Cintas,but far below 100%. In those 4 losses Xavier averaged 61PPG. Trevon has been steadily returning to form over the last three games. XU has averaged just over 80PPG.

Game One Wednesday at MSG pits #8 St Johns against #9 Georgetown. The Johnnies play on their home court. They beat the Hoyas at the Garden a couple weeks ago. G-town is awash in talent,but they've lost 5 in a row. The winner gets a rested #1 seed Villanova at noon Thursday. Darryl Reynolds is back for VU after the rib injury. Coach Jay Wright can play 7 now(8 if he uses 6-10 Frosh Dylan Painter). Nova clinches a #1 NCAA seed and a probable trip back to MSG for NCAA Rounds I and 2 if they win the Big East Tourney Title.

Marquette plays Seton Hall in the second Quarterfinal Thursday afternoon. MU lives by the transition three pointer. Seton Hall is down to 6 players if BIG Ishmael Sanogo can't play. The late Quarterfinal Thursday has Providence against Creighton. PC's gone 7-2 in the second half of the Big east schedule. CU is 5-7 since the Mo Watson injury.




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