The question posed by the title of this post would seem ridiculous during the first week of January. The Musketeers were 13-2, with wins over Clemson, Wake Forest, Utah, Providence, and Georgetown. They were ranked 15th in the AP Poll and 19th per Ken Pomeroy’s formula.
That is not the resume of a bubble team, but of a three or four seed with aspirations of a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.
In the last three weeks, however, Xavier is only 2-4 in its last six games. With three of the four losses coming on the road and all four coming at the hands of top 26 KenPom teams, the Musketeers still looked like a tournament-bound team with some kinks to figure out if they planned on reaching the second weekend.
Then, Xavier lost two rotation players. Myles Davis was a major contributor last season, playing 75% of possible minutes. This September, he was suspended indefinitely following a domestic violence incident. He returned on January 10 for Xavier’s meeting with Villanova. He played three games, all of which the Musketeers lost, and then Davis unexpectedly quit the team, announcing he was no longer part of the program on Twitter. He went from valued veteran, to question mark, to possible contributor, and then he was gone. Xavier played the majority of its season without Davis and should have been able to react, with added contributions from JP Macura.
Now, however, the Musketeers will also be without the services of starting point guard Edmond Sumner. The talented sophomore had been playing 33 minutes per game and leading Xavier in usage rate before tearing his ACL. Replacing 15 points and 5 assists per game is not an easy task for any team, much less one on a losing skid and already short-handed.
With all of that being said and on the precipice of February, is Xavier still a lock to play in the NCAA Tournament? The committee’s tendency is to evaluate teams with the complement of players they will have available in March, which means both not penalizing teams for losses without a certain player and re-considering wins with players no longer able to play. The Musketeers play 10 more games before the Big East Tournament. Hovering above or at .500 over that stretch likely earns them an at-large bid. That’s easier said than done, without Sumner. Xavier’s remaining slate features a host of quality opponents, with 9 of its remaining 11 games against top 65 teams in the RPI. Included in that group are games at Creighton and versus Villanova and Butler, all top 25 RPI teams. Xavier’s resume currently features an 0-5 record against the RPI top 25 and if that record were to fall to 0-8 (or worse with a loss to any of those three teams at Madison Square Garden in the Big East Tourney), the Musketeers are likely NIT bound. For a team already averaging an 11 point loss against top 25 competition, winning one of those games, without their main offensive catalyst, would be a tall task.
Realistically, for Xavier to feel safe about an at-large bid, it would need a 6-4 record the rest of the way, with at least one win coming against the class of the Big East. To date, the Musketeers have not shown themselves to capable of that, and now without Edmond Sumner, they might as well be trying with a hand tied behind their back. Their quest to avoid the bubble begins Wednesday night, as they face Seton Hall at home. That game isn’t a must-win per se, but the committee will be watching closely. If Xavier looks competent without Sumner, even in a loss, their hopes stay afloat. If losing its best player proves too damaging for Xavier, we could be on the brink of a collapse.
Shane McNichol is the founder, editor, and writer at PalestraBack.com. He has also contributed to SALTMoney.org, Rush The Court, ESPN.com, and USA Today Sports Weekly. Follow him on Twitter @OnTheShaneTrain. If you have any suggestions, tips, ideas, or questions, email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.