Xavier Musketeers might have to play into NCAA Tournament through First Four in Dayton

Experts: XU needs another win to make field of 64

CINCINNATI – Not so fast, Xavier.

Just when it looked like the Musketeers were safe for an NCAA Tournament bid, providence might have intervened.

Now it looks like Xavier might have to win a play-in game to get into the main 64-team field.

Two respected "bracketologists," ESPN's Joe Lunardi and CBS Sports' Jerry Palm, dropped Xavier into the "First Four" round in their projections late Saturday.

If their prediction is right, the NCAA selection committee will send Xavier with seven other teams to Dayton, Ohio, to play a preliminary game (two on Tuesday and two on Wednesday). The four winners will advance to the main bracket.

The NCAA will announce the field at 6 p.m. Sunday on CBS.

Why? What happened to the thought that Xavier clinched a bid by beating Marquette in the first round of the Big East Tournament?

Blame the Providence Friars.

When Providence, projected as a First Four team, knocked off Creighton in the Big East Tournament championship game Saturday, the Friars won an automatic berth and pushed Xavier down into the First Four, Palm and Lunardi said.

In his bracket, Lunardi predicts Xavier (21-12) will play Brigham Young (23-11) at Dayton. BYU lost to Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference championship last Tuesday.

Palm's bracket has the Musketeers playing Southern Methodist (23-9). The Mustangs lost to Houston in the first round of the American Athletic Conference tournament last Wednesday.

Both Lunardi and Palm predict that the winner will get an 11th seed and go on to play a No. 6 Virginia Commonwealth (26-7). Lunardi predicts that game will be in Buffalo, N.Y., while Palm has it in San Diego.

When the Musketeers watch the Selection Show Sunday, they might not jump for joy if they're sent to the First Four. But it would be better than missing the tournament all together like they did last year. Xavier hadn't missed the tourney since 2005.

The good news, presumably, is that more Xavier fans could attend the game in Dayton. The bad news is that First Four teams get 48 hours or less to rest and prepare for their next opponent.

Two First Four games pit at-large teams and two pit the winners of the automatic qualifying conferences with the weakest ratings.

Lunardi predicts the other matchups will be:

> Dayton (23-10), the home team, vs. Nebraska (19-12) with the winner getting an 11th seed.

> Coastal Carolina (21-12, Big South) vs. Albany (18-14, America East) for a 16th seed.

> Cal Poly (13-19, Big West) vs. Texas Southern (9-14, Southwestern Athletic Conference) for a 16th seed.

Palm has Dayton in the field of 64 and predicts the other First Four matchups will be:

> Tennessee (21-12) vs. BYU (23-11) for a 12th seed.

> Mount St. Mary's (16-16, Northeast Conference) vs. Albany for a 16th seed.

> Cal Poly vs. Texas Southern for a 16th seed.

A few First Four winners have had great success in the tournament since the NCAA adopted the format in 2011.

Virginia Commonwealth made the Final Four in 2011, and LaSalle advanced to the Sweet 16 last year.

South Florida won another game before being eliminated in 2012.

But the rest lost their next game.

Game times in Dayton have not been announced. Public practice sessions will be held from 5 to 8 p.m. Monday and from noon to 3 p.m. Tuesday at UD Arena.

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