ANDY MAC'S XAVIER-CENTRIC BIG EAST TOURNAMENT PREVIEW!!!
Andy Mac Williams,
Some record breaking GOOD NEWS for Xavier Basketball in the last 24 hours!! The Muskies have climbed to #2 nationally in the latest USA Today Coaches' TOP 25 Poll. That's XU's highest rating ever!!Currently, Xavier sits third in the AP media poll behind Virginia and Villanova. The UVA Cavaliers were a unanimous #1 in both Top 25s. They've been living on the edge lately with a miracle win at Louisville and a close victory over Notre Dame last Saturday in Charlottesville.
Virginia set an ACC record with a 17-1 regular season log. Their top scorer Kyle Guy(14.3PPG) twisted a knee against ND. UVA opens ACC Tournament play Thursday afternoon at Barclay's Center in Brooklyn in the ACC Quarterfinals after earning a double bye.
Also-Muskies' Senior Trevon Bluiett has been chosen to the Sporting News, NBc Sports and USA Today All American Second Teams.
MUSKIES IN NYC:
Xavier has produced a 6-4 overall record in four previous BIG EAST TOURNAMENT trips to Madison Square Garden. They've won at least one game every year. XU made the Championship Game in 2015 led by Seniors Matt Stainbrook and Dee Davis.
Trevon Bluiett, J.P. Macura and Sean O'Mara were freshmen. Last season Xavier had to play Wednesday night as a #7 Seed. They beat DePaul-then beat #2 Seed Butler before losing at the buzzer in the Semis to Creighton. XU netted a #11 NCAA Seed and made a memorable run to the NCAA Elite 8.
Xavier will be #1 Seed for the first time at MSG. They play the winner of Wednesday's 8-9 Georgetown-St Johns game(7PM-FS1) at noon Thursday(FS1). Survivors of Wednesday's opening round games have upset rested higher seeds twice since 2014.
Seton Hall knocked out #1 Villanova on a Sterling Gibbs buzzer beater "three" in 2014. Xavier took out #2 Butler last March. Butler is 0-4 in BIG EAST Tourney games. The Bulldogs(#6 Seed) play Seton Hall(#3 Seed) in the 9PM Quarterfinal Thursday. #2 Seed Villanova plays the 7-10 winner Marquette or DePaul in the early evening game Thursday.
XAVIER'S DRAW 2018:
X will be rested and waiting Thursday at noon for the G-town-St Johns winner. They played twice in the regular season with the Hoyas winning two cliff hangers 69-66 at MSG and 93-89 in two overtimes in DC. Old BIG EAST playing rivals Patrick Ewing(Georgetown) and Chris Mullin(St Johns) are the coaches.
GU has lost 4 in a row. They're 15-14 overall and 5-13 in the BIG EAST. The Hoyas have struggled in close games(1-4 in overtime). They have two of the best BIGS in the league Juniors Jesse Govan(17.5PPG-10 rebounds) and Marcus Derrickson(15.3PPG-8.1 rebounds). Derrickson did not play at Villanova last Saturday because of an ankle injury.
G-town rebounds well(plus 5 boards/game) and they shoot FTs well(77% as a team). Ewing brought in two good Frosh Jamorko Pickett and Jahvon Blair(both 10PPG-both make "threes"). The Hoyas use three PGS. Georgetown might still have an NIT chance with a couple wins in NYC.
St Johns is 15-16 overall and 4-14 in the BIG EAST. Madison Square Garden is their second home(2-3 record at MSG) including a blockbuster upset of Duke a month ago. The Redstorm upset Villanova in Philadelphia also. SJU plays gambling defense leading the BIG EAST in turnovers forced-blocked shots and steals.
Their First Team BIG EAST star Shamorie Ponds(21.6 PPG) has missed two games in a row with an abdominal strain. St Johns beat Butler in overtime without Ponds then lost a close game at Providence. The Johnnies are down to 6 healthy scholarship players unless Ponds plays.
Xavier beat both GU and SJU twice. It wasn't easy!! Xavier needed a near miracle Trevon Bluiett 4 point play to force OT at Cintas then beat G-town 98-93 in extra time. X won more easily in DC 89-77. Both wins over St Johns were sticky and close(88-82 in Cincy and 73-68 in Queens). The Muskies have had trouble controlling the dribble drive and getting stops. I'll pick St Johns to beat Georgetown 76-73. Xavier might have its hands full with the Johnnies with the bulk of the MSG crowd behind them although Xavier should have upwards of 2,000 fans in attendance.
The BIG EAST should get five NCAA bids for sure(Xavier, Villanova, Seton Hall, Creighton and Butler). Providence might have to beat Creighton Thursday to grab an 11 or 12 seed. Marquette is squarely "on the Bubble" needing to beat DePaul and very possibly Villanova.
If the season ended today, Xavier would certainly rate a #1 NCAA Seed. Unfortunately both Duke and Kansas are lurking. The Muskies can call their own shot for a #1 Seed with two wins at MSG unless both Duke and Kansas win their conference tournaments IMHO.
Xavier's NCAA TEAM SHEET looks strong with 6 quadrant 1 wins and an 8-1 record in Quadrant 2. The Muskies' RPI and SOR and SOS are strong plus their AP and Coaches Poll rankings help and they are BIG EAST regular season champs.
X is hurt by the subjective predictive ratings numbers(BPI-Ken Pom and Sagarin). Hopefully,Xavier will pass the eye test as the Selection Committee watches conference tournament games from their hotel in Indianapolis.
The best path to a Final Four is with a #1 Seed in the MIDWEST REGIONAL-two wins in Nashville and a comfy trip to a BIG EAST town in Omaha.