Despite late-season slide, Chris Mack says Xavier's resume is plenty strong enough to make tourney

CINCINNATI -- NCAA tournament prognosticators have situated Xavier’s men’s basketball team on the bubble since its six-game skid, but coach Chris Mack said it would be unprecedented for a team with the Musketeers’ resume to be left out of the Big Dance.

Mack, asked in the Big East coaches’ teleconference what Xavier needed to do to secure a bid, said the team aspires to perform well at this week’s Big East Tournament in New York.

He also said the Musketeers’ regular-season body of work makes it resoundingly bid-worthy.

“Let me just say this: We challenged our team from day one. We have one of the best non-conference schedules in the country at 20. Our total strength of schedule is 11. Our team’s been challenged since November. It would be absolutely unprecedented for a team with our type of numbers -- whether it’s RPI, strength of schedule, KenPom, you name it -- it would be unprecedented for a team of our caliber to be left out of the NCAA tournament,” Mack said.

“So having said that, do I want to leave it in the committee’s hands? No. But I think a lot has been made about Edmond Sumner’s injury and rightfully so. Hey, is Xavier a different team? What kind of team are they now? But since Edmond got injured, in games that we were also not impacted by Trevon Bluiett’s injury, we were 4-3 with two road victories and two wins against NCAA tournament teams. And that’s a fact.

“So again, do we want to leave it in the committee’s hands? No, we want to do our part of going to the Big East Tournament. But as I said before, it would be unprecedented if a team with our resume weren’t to be in the field. That’s why we scheduled the way we did in the first place.”

Xavier has long subscribed to the philosophy of scheduling a treacherous non-conference slate, a tactic that helped bolster its resume when it played in the Atlantic 10. By maintaining the tradition in the Big East, the team’s entire schedule has become fraught with difficult match-ups.

Even in the six-game skid (vs. Villanova, at Providence, at Marquette, at Seton Hall, vs. Butler, vs. Marquette), Xavier did not absorb a bad loss. All those teams rank in the RPI’s Top 55. Villanova and Butler count among the Top 12.

But because of the volume and timing of the recent defeats, ESPN.com’s Joe Lunardi has Xavier hanging on to an at-large bid by a thread. His latest NCAA tournament mock bracket projects the Musketeers as a 12-seed in a First Four game in Dayton. Jerry Palm at CBSSports.com lists Xavier as an 11-seed.

The last time a Mack team danced so close to the postseason fire was 2013-2014, Xavier’s first year in the Big East. The Musketeers dropped 11 regular-season games, as well as their second game of the conference tournament, and lost to North Carolina State in the First Four in Dayton.

This season Xavier (19-12, 9-9 Big East) is the No. 7 seed in the Big East Tournament. It faces 10th-seeded DePaul (9-22, 2-16) at 9:30 p.m. Wednesday at Madison Square Garden. The winner advances to Thursday’s 7 p.m. quarterfinal and a date with No. 2-seed Butler.

The road to a conference tournament title and automatic bid is considerably difficult for the Musketeers. They must win four games in four days and defeat multiple teams that already have proven problematic.

The last time Xavier won four games in a row was at the end of January and start of February -- at St. John’s, vs. Seton Hall, at Creighton and vs. DePaul. Sumner tore his ACL at the end of the St. John’s outing and Xavier later played two games without season scoring leader Bluiett (right ankle sprain).

Bluiett -- a recent All-Big East first team selection -- is back and playing well, but now the status of freshman Tyrique Jones is questionable. The forward hit his head hard while scrambling for a ball late in Saturday’s regular-season finale at DePaul.

“He’s better,” Mack said in the teleconference. “I don’t have an update on his status of whether he’ll be available for Wednesday or not. I’m sure if it was left up to Tyrique, he’d want to play. But that’s going to be a mutual decision between Tyrique, his family, the doctors and everybody here associated with Xavier.”

A few notes about Xavier’s resume:

  • Xavier is No. 34 in the most recent NCAA RPI.
  • XU ranks 35th in the BPI, a measure of team strength that’s considered the best predictor of performance moving forward, and No. 43 in the Ken Pomeroy rankings.
  • The Musketeers have the NCAA’s No. 11 strength of schedule. CBSSports.com and TeamRankings.com rank Xavier’s strength of schedule 10th while ESPN.com has it at No. 12.
  • The Musketeers have no losses outside the KenPom Top 75. 
  • Xavier’s average opponents’ RPI is 87, which is the fifth-best in the country. 

Of course, Xavier’s resume would be undone by a loss to a Blue Demons team ranked 229th in the NCAA RPI, a fact that’s not lost on the Musketeers. Xavier’s last two victories also have come at DePaul’s expense, including the regular-season finale just two days ago.

Although DePaul has lost 13 of its last 14 outings, coach Dave Leitao said in the Big East teleconference that the start of a “new season” in conference tourneys ushers in new optimism.

“Everybody across the country gets a chance to push the reset button and go to a new season and have an opportunity to see what comes of it,” Leitao said.

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