ANDY MAC'S RAMBLING MARCH MADNESS RUMINATIONS!!!
By Andy Mac Williams, 3/14/2018

Xavier TEAM 96 got what it wanted and deserved on NCAA Selection Sunday IMHO. The Muskies netted the program's first ever #1 Seed. The Midwest Regional might have been preferable (in a perfect world) to the West with a second weekend site in Omaha versus Los Angeles, but that BIG EAST Tournament semi-final loss to Providence (75-72 in OT) allowed Kansas to grab the Midwest slot. Check out the bottom of the Midwest bracket(Duke and Michigan). Maybe the West is more favorable although most pundits have XU going no farther than the Sweet 16 at Staples Center where they are projected to lose to #4 Seed Gonzaga. Xavier picked the Nashville first weekend sight because it's close geographically and games are Friday-Sunday at 19,000 seat Bridgestone Arena (home of the NHL Nashville Predators).

Maybe I'm paranoid, but I've never seen a #1 Seed get less attention and less respect. Charles Barkley still refers to the Muskies as "X-avier". Jay Bilas is dismissive as usual. X is being button holed as a run and gun team with limited defensive capability.

In reality, the Muskies are plus 10 in points scored versus points allowed. The defense is improving IMHO thanks to Frosh Naji Marshall and Paul Scruggs emerging during the BIG EAST schedule. Kaiser Gates is a very underrated defensive player also. Expect Coach Mack to sprinkle in much more zone against NCAA opponents that seldom if ever play XU. It's hard to prep for the 1-3-1 and the 2-3 in one day. Witness X-Florida State last March.

STATE OF THE MUSKIES:

Xavier comes out of NYC healthy and they should be rested after avoiding a third BE Tourney game in three days. Kaiser Gates played an outstanding game against St Johns(16 points-4 made "threes"). He may be primed for a BIG NCAA like last year(Maryland-FSU). Paul Scruggs had a career high 15 points against Providence. His minutes are expanding. He is playing more and more with Quentin Gooden. XU's best defensive line-up Scruggs-Gooden-Gates-Marshall and O'Mara or Tyrique Jones may be destined for additional situational court time in close half court NCAA cliffhangers.

X must have a reprise of last season's NCAA Batman and Robin Act from Trevon Bluiett and J.P. Macura. Naji Marshall must fill the all purpose defensive stopper-rebounder-support scorer role that Malcolm Bernard player so well last March. TEAM 96 is deeper-better and more experienced than TEAM 95-the group that made an Elite 8 Run from an #11 Seed in 2017.

The draw in 2018 and the match-ups this season may be more difficult though even with a #1 Seed. Rebounding and FT shooting are vital anytime, but even more so in close high pressure NCAA games. Xavier is plus 7.3 on the boards and shoots 79% at the foul line(a school record and 6th nationally). The Muskies have made 104 more FTs than the enemy has attempted(a huge number).

Four Seniors make up an experienced versatile deep 9 player rotation. This team has yet to put two great halves together. They may have to to beat Gonzaga in a possible Sweet 16 game.

XAVIER'S OPENING GAME:

The Muskies open Friday night in Nashville(7:15PM-EDT on TBS) against either Texas Southern(SWAC CHAMP) or North Carolina Central(MEAC Champ). They play Wednesday evening(6:30PM-EDT) in a First Four game at UD Arena. It will be #1 Seed Xavier against #16 Seed(TSU or UNCC) on Friday. Since the NCAA Field expanded to 64(now 68) teams 1's are 128-0 against 16s. The average margin of victory in those games for #1 Seeds is 24.86 points. Xavier does not want to make any negative history.

Neither Texas Southern nor UNCC are wet-behind-the ears Cinderellas though. TSU under former Indiana and UAB coach Mike Davis has secured NCAA berths in 2014, 2015 and 2017(lost 103-64 to North Carolina-the National Champion). They played Valparaiso in the 2016 NIT.

Davis has a veteran group of transfers. UNCC lost at Dayton to UC Davis in a 2017 play-in game(67-63). This is their third NCAA trip in 5 years with an NIT mixed in. Both TSU(#2 Seed) and UNCC(#6 Seed) pulled upsets in their conference tournaments to secure automatic bids.

If Xavier wins, they play the 8-9 survivor(Missouri or Florida State) Sunday In Nashville(TV times-TBA).

RANDOM NCAA THOUGHTS:

Six BIG EAST teams made the Field of 68(Villanova, Creighton, Butler, Seton Hall. Providence and Xavier). That's 28 total NCAA bids in 5 seasons of the New BIG EAST!! XU, Nova and PC have made the NCAA all five years. Chris Mack Xavier teams have secured NCAA berths in 8 of his 9 seasons making three Sweet 16s(2010, 2012, 2015) and one Elite 8(2017). Mack's NCAA record is 10-7 so far.

Only 4 BIG TEN teams made the tournament (Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Purdue). It was not a banner year for the State of Indiana. IU was left out along with Notre Dame and Valparaiso.

I'll post a full scouting report on the Texas Southern-North Carolina Central winner Thursday after I watch the game from Dayton on Wednesday. Xavier participates in an Open Practice Thursday afternoon at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville(3:25 PM-4:05PM CDT). UC is on the floor from 12:30-1:10 PM CDT.




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