MUSKIES TAKE MOJO TO NYC!! NCAA IS POSSIBLE!!!!
Andy Mac Williams,
NCAA hope springs eternal for Xavier after Saturday's classic next man up Senior Night 81-68 Muskie win over St Johns at Cintas. XU has momentum headed to Madison Square Garden w/ 6 wins in 7 tries since February 9th. The Muskies have risen through the BIG EAST ranks from 10th at 3-9 a month ago-to a tie for 3rd at 9-9 at regular season's conclusion. The resume needs more work at the BIG EAST Tournament this week, but two paths to the NCAA Field of 68 exist IMHO. 3 wins in 3 days starting w/ a Quarterfinal "W" over Creighton Thursday afternoon(#4 Seed XU vs #5 Seed CU) at 2:30 EDT on FS1 net Xavier the BE's NCAA automatic bid.
The victory over St Johns opened up a second window of opportunity though! XU avoids a nasty extra Wednesday evening play-in game at MSG by finishing 9-9 and might net an NCAA at large berth now w/ 2 BE Tourney wins Thursday over Creighton and then Friday night vs the winner of the noon Thursday Quarter between #1 Seed Villanova and either #8 PC or #9 Butler who have to play Wednesday.
THOUGHTS ON SENIOR DAY:
Travis Steele decided to hold out Naji Marshall because of the ankle sprain he sustained last Tuesday at Butler. TOUGH DECISOIN as Naji just made 2nd Team All BIG EAST for the season-scored 31 in the win at St Johns recently and had been averaging 20+ PPG over the previous 6.
Naji could have functioned, but way below 100%. Additional rest and treatment may yield a healthy Naji for the BE Tourney and beyond. Steele believes in Next Man Up. His 3 Grad Transfers soaked up Marshall's 40 minutes of PT on their Senior Night and produced!! Zach Hankins-Ryan Welage and Kyle Castlin combined for 42 points-13 rebounds-7 assists and 4 blocks in 91 minutes. Their best collective contribution by far this season.
Welage earned more time and St Johns gave him the space to score 19 points w/ 5 made three pointers and 4 clever assists(when the Johnnies did mark him), Welage made the shots he hits regularly day after day in practice. Assistant coach Jonas Hayes pointed that out and hatched the St Johns game plan as lead scout for the game.
Castlin was solid as usual defensively(best + player all season). He also made shots(12 points) and continues to track down ratty long rebounds(6 boards). Hankins continues to improve(12 points-7 rebounds-3 blocks in 29 minutes). Zach is playing well w/ below BIG Tyrique Jones and w/o him. His defense is much better. His FG% is approaching a Xavier record 70% plus he seems to be enjoying the TEAM thing and we know he likes the BIG GAME spotlight so he should thrive in NYC and hopefully the NCAA.
Paul Scuggs was excellent on his birthday(22 points-6 rebounds-4 assits-a full 40 minutes). Scruggs brought the physical defense and leadership. Quentin Gooden took a back seat shooting the ball, but played a terrific floor game(7 assists-jts 1 turnover-7 rebounds).
X coughed it up just 10 times against St Johns pressure defense. XU controlled tempo-milked the shot clock-got back on defense-creamed them Johnnies on the glass(38-24 rebound disparity) and outscored them 14-7 at the foul line. Two lopsided Xavier wins over St Johns should give X the drop on STJ in any NCAA at large bid comparisons.
St Johns still feels they have an at large case? At 8-10 and a #7 BIG EAST Seed they probably have to win 4 in 4 days at MSG starting w/ DePaul. MSG is their pseudo home floor(2-2 there w/ February wins over Villanova and Seton Hall).
COMPLETE BIG EAST BRACKET:
Wednesday-2 Games-7PM-Providence #8 vs Butler#9 and 9:30-St Johns#7 vs DePaul #10.
Thursday-Noon-Villanova#1 vs Winner of PC-DePaul-2:30-Xavier#4 vs Creighton#5. Thursday Night-7PM Marquette#2 vs Winner St Johns-DePaul-9:30 Seton Hall#3 vs Georgetown#6.
Friday Semifinals at 7 and 9:30. Xavier would play Villanova-(Butler-PC winner).
All games though Semi-Finals on FS1.
Saturday at 6PM-Champioship game at 6PM on BIG FOX WXIX TV 19.
NCAA NETS(as of 3-11).
Creighton(54), Seton Hall(62) Butler(63) St Johns(66) Xavier(71) PC(74) Georgetown(76) DePaul(100).
17-14 overall 9-9 BIG EAST won 6 of 7. Naji's health is a wild card. How close to 100% can he be for Thursday vs Creighton? Xavier's CORE 4 has 28 games of Postseason experience(12 games BIG EAST) and 16 games-NCAA). Only Villanova has more postseason exposure among BIG EAST teams. Xavier is 7-5 in 5 previous BIG EAST Tourney trips w/ at least one win each year. X has been to the Finals once(2015) losing to Villanova.
They've needed wins 3 times to cement NCAA at large bids and they've produced all 3 times(2014-one BE NYC win for a trip to Dayton and a 12 Seed)(2015-2 wins and a 6 Seed)(2017 2 wins and an 11 Seed).
IMHO Xavier-Creighton is an NCAA Elimination Game Thursday. Could go either way.
Creighton is hot lately w/ 5 straight wins and PG Marcus Zegarowski now functional. Damian Mintz has several days to recover from his head to head collision w/ Max Strus of DePaul.
X is 0-2 ve Creighton in BIG EAST Tourney games. We'll have much more on Xavier-Creighton here and on twitter. Cngrats to Paul Scruggs for making the final BIG EAST weekly Honor Roll(excellent games at Butler and home against St Johns).
Xavier leaves for NYC Tuesday afternoon. The University is on Spring Break over BE Tourney Week. Selection Sunday on 3-17 is now a triple whammy. St Patrick's Day meets FC Cincinnati's home opener at Nippert against the Portland Timbers meets the NCAA show.
Don't be shocked if Xavier is slotted in the First Four(NCAA) next Tuesday or Wednesday at University of Dayton Arena. That's if XU gets an at large NCAA bid by winning 2 games in NYC. 3 wins and an automatic NCAA berth will probably net a 10 Seed or better because it would most likely mean MSG wins over Creighton, Villanova and Marquette leading to dramatic NET improvement.
If XU gets into the NIT, expect a home game at Cintas early next week against a regional team like Dayton or Wright State or NKU?? Just speculating here. The NIT likes good crowds and cheap travel(on the bus) and intriguing match-ups for TV.