Xavier Basketball is entering one of the biggest week’s in American college sports. With their quest for a potential 2019 NCAA Tournament bid set to face the ultimate test.
The Xavier Musketeers will enter this week’s Big East Tournament in strong form. The Musketeers won six of their last seven regular season games. Including a Senior Day win last Saturday against St. John’s Basketball. Winning 84-73 to wrap up their regular season schedule. Completing a season sweep of St. John’s in the process.
The Musketeers had to manage without sophomore forward Naji Marshall. The All-Big East second team honoree missed the game with an ankle injury. Marshall’s health status for the Big East tournament is currently unclear. This prompted Ryan Welage and Paul Scruggs to step up for this season’s Xavier scoring leader. Meanwhile, Musketeer seniors Welage, Zach Hankins and Kyle Castlin scored a combined 43 points.
Xavier went 9-9 in conference regular season play. Finishing out an NCAA Division I best 37th consecutive regular season with a .500 or better conference record. One of four Big East teams to finish the regular season with a 9-9 conference record. They’re heading into conference championship week with a 17-14 overall record. The Musketeers will be the fourth seed in the Big East Tournament. Earning a bye into the tournament’s quarterfinal round.
The Musketeers will face Creighton Basketball on Thursday afternoon. With tip-off from New York’s Madison Square Garden set for 2:30 PM Eastern time. The two teams split their regular season series. Meeting each other twice within in a ten day span in February. Both games marked notable moments in Xavier’s season.
Xavier endured a beat down in their first meeting. Ending with the fifth loss in what would be a six-game losing streak. Losing 76-54 in Omaha on February 3rd; in Xavier’s worst Big East defeat this season. Their meeting on February 13th in Cincinnati marked a turning point for Xavier. The Musketeers won that night 64-61, marking Xavier’s first win since January 13th.
With a win on Thursday, Xavier could face top seed Villanova Basketball in Friday’s semifinals. They could also potentially face Butler or Providence Basketball. Xavier has a 1-1 record against all three teams this season. Regardless of the opponent, Xavier would play in Friday’s first semifinal game at 6:30 PM Eastern. Click here for the full Big East Conference tournament bracket.
Having a bye into the Big East quarterfinals helps Xavier. Giving them more time to prepare for a challenging Creighton team. The bye could also help in their journey to a potential NCAA Tournament bid. Through improving their chances of making it to the conference championship game. Potentially the only way that the selection committee seriously considers Xavier for a bid. Mid-major contenders could also impact Xavier’s March Madness hopes.
Ultimately, the late Al Davis’ “Just win baby” motto is a fitting one for Xavier this week. Along with dozens of college basketball programs across the country. This week’s conference tournament is now the biggest factor in Xavier’s March prospects. Making the difference between a trip to the NIT or the big dance.
UPDATE: Xavier beat Creighton 63-61 Thursday afternoon in New York City. The Musketeers will face No.1 seed Villanova in Friday evening’s Big East semifinals.