Xavier fans will learn a lot about the team this week, but maybe not in the ways they would reflexively expect.
This week, Xavier will play games against DePaul and Marquette. Xavier is better than DePaul. Xavier is also better than Marquette.
Obviously, this doesn’t guarantee two wins from two for the Muskies. There are confounding factors, first of which is that neither team is catastrophically bad. I mean, DePaul is bad, but they’re more NIT bubble bad than candidate for relegation bad. Marquette is on the regular bubble and has won four in a row. It has been more than a month since a team has beaten them by double digits.
Worse still, both games are on the road. As Seton Hall discovered over the weekend, that makes a difference, even when the opponent is DePaul.
That comes with a silver lining though. With these being road games, DePaul is a Q2 opponent and Marquette a Q1. There’s an entire win above bubble on offer for Xavier this week.
If the Muskies grab them both, they’ll vault into borderline elite status. That would slide them up to 7th in WAB, just a hair behind Villanova. A split would hold them at 14th, which you’ll recognize as strong footing, and even dropping both games would leave X firmly in the tournament.
Put another way, right now WAB sees Xavier as about a 4 seed. Two wins would have them in the 2 seed range, two losses would have them as about an 8, and a split would hold them steady.
Both KenPom and Torvik give Xavier about a 75% chance of beating DePaul and just better than a coin toss of taking out Marquette. I’m not a math ace, but I think that means the models see it as more likely than not that X drops one of these games. So if Xavier goes 2-0, recognize that as something more than just handling business.
On the flip side, there’s a meaningful possibility that Xavier adds a loss or even two this week. Should that happen, try to keep a cool head. There are no easy games in the Big East, and more so on the road. A split isn’t a disaster, and 0-2 doesn’t mean Steele is on the hot seat. It’s a long season. Stay calm.
Sure would like to see X get both of these though.