MUSKIES' TEAM 96 LIVING ON THE EDGE!!
Andy Mac Williams,
Xavier's last three wins certainly have been roller coaster and exciting!! There was the 96-91 overtime victory against Georgetown at Cintas featuring Trevon Bluiett's near miracle four point play that forced the OT plus 10-10 Muskie FT shooting in the extra session. Then Tuesday night in Indianapolis, Xavier shook off Butler's wild 9-2 rally over the final minute of regulation and the Muskies won again 98-93 in OT. That brings us to last Saturday afternoon in Omaha against Creighton. The Blue Jays shoe horned in an SRO crowd at Century Link Center(18,000 plus-the fire marshal must have been on vacation). CU was 13-0 at home-"Letting It Fly" to the tune of 90PPG. The Muskies were short Tyrique Jones again with a sore shoulder. XU's seven game winning streak in the BIG EAST and half game lead over Villanova seemed in peril. Xavier started fast and survived the expected emotional Creighton runs.
X led 43-35 at the break. It was a pretty wild offensive fire fight and lock down defender Khyri Thomas basically took Trevon Bluiett off the chess board with face guarding sticky "D". Second half-the Blue Jays hung around thanks to star power(Marcus Foster-29 points on 25 shots) and a barrage of threes(11-34). Xavier pounded the ball inside(50-20 crushing in paint points-21-5 domination in second chance scoring). The Muskies might have been lucky on some level,but they won the final four minute war courtesy of experience and depth and patience and persistence and execution(72-71 the Final).
CU lamented the last few seconds. Ronnie Harrell drew a 3 shot foul after a dive to the floor. He drilled all three FTs to put the Jays ahead 71-70. XU had 4.6 seconds to work with. Coach Mack called PG Quentin Gooden's number. "Q" took the inbounds pass cutting off a pick and dribbled coast to coast rating a double team in the paint at the other end of the floor. There was a car wreck. The muscular Gooden absorbed contact-went into the shooting motion and drew the foul. He then calmly drained both FTs for the 72-71 road win.
The late foul calls sort of cancel each other out in my mind. "Q" capped off a great game(17 points). The smaller Creighton guards couldn't contain him. XU won without Tyrique-with Trevon scoring a season low 6 points(he helped out with 7 rebounds and 4 assists) and without much three point production(3-19).
X might not be firing on all cylinders every night,but this team finds ways to win (9-0 in games decided by 6 points or less-7-2 in road games). An active 8 game winning streak in a conference as rugged as the BIG EAST including road "Ws" at Seton Hall, St Johns, Butler and Creighton is pretty remarkable. Reminds me of something Villanova pulled off from 2014 through 2017.
And let's give the Xavier defense some credit!! Creighton is averaging 90 plus PPG in Omaha. X held then to 71. Over the 8 game win streak XU was allowed 71 points or fewer 5 times(big improvement especially in a veteran scorer's league like the BIG EAST).
MUSKIES BY THE NUMBERS:
XU is now 23-3-11-2 in the BIG EAST and a half game ahead of four time defending regular season Champ Villanova(10-2). Nova plays at Providence Wednesday evening(7PM-EST-FS1) before X tips off in the late game at Cintas against Seton Hall(9PM-EST-FS1). Villanova comes to Cintas this Saturday afternoon(4:30PM-EST-BIG FOX-WXIX 19). They have tough road tilts after that at Creighton and at Seton Hall. XU moves up to #4 in both AP and Coaches' Top 25s. That's the Muskies' highest AP Rank ever. Xavier got first place votes in both polls. XU is 15-0 at Cintas including 6-0 in the BIG EAST.
NCAA SNAP SHOT NUMBERS-MEANINGLESS BUT INTERESTING!!!
For the second year in a row the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee and CBS TV decided to hype the bracketology thing and give us their Top 16 seeds as they stand four weeks before Selection Sunday March 11th. Xavier did well in this speculative exercise netting a #1 Seed(third overall) in the Midwest Region. I like the way this Committee is thinking-rewarding road wins(Top 4 seeds 40-8 away from home-Virginia-Villanova-Xavier and Purdue).
XU's #2 RPI got respected along with their #8 Strength of Schedule. I still think when we get to March 11th it's a stretch to expect two #1 Seeds from the BIG EAST. It's probably going to be either XU or Villanova with the other getting a #2 seed barring a major meltdown for either team.
Xavier will certainly get geographical preference under the Pod System that's been in affect since 2012. Expect a First Weekend NCAA location for Xavier in Pittsburgh or Detroit or Nashville or Charlotte. The Second Weekend Regional site in Omaha would be primo. Despite the somewhat controversial Xavier win over Creighton last Saturday I'd expect BIG EAST fans at Century Link along with a large Muskie contingent to give XU a pseudo home court edge in Omaha plus the players are comfortable there. It's all good and a lot more favorable than last season's #11 seed, but Xavier obviously fought through that situation to make am Elite 8 run. I'll have a full Seton Hall Preview Tuesday.