CINCINNATI – The stakes couldn't be higher when No. 5 Xavier hosts No. 1 Villanova before a record crowd at the Cintas Center Wednesday night.
The Musketeers have a lot to gain and a lot to lose.
A No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament could be riding on the outcome, pending their probable matchup in the Big East Tournament finals.
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Blown out 95-61 at Villanova on New Year's Eve, Xavier needs to even the score on its home court to hold sway with the NCAA selection committee. The Musketeers never challenged the Wildcats in their first game after losing starting guard and leading scorer Edmond Sumner in the first two minutes to a bad fall.
Another blowout could cast a big shadow on the Musketeers' record and raise doubts that losses to Georgetown (92nd in RPI) and Creighton (82nd) only hinted at - that Xavier is just this year's media darling and doesn't belong in the championship talk.
Xavier's record (24-3 overall, 12-3 Big East) has become suspect as once highly-regarded opponents like Butler, Providence and Cincinnati have fallen out of the Top 25. While a Xavier win would tie Oklahoma for most wins over ranked teams (six), none of the Top-25 teams Xavier has beaten - Butler twice, Providence twice and UC - are still ranked.
The Musketeers' schedule is rated 48th according to KenPom, and they have only one win against a current RPI Top 25 team (Dayton). For matter, Villanova only has one, too (Xavier).
Pomeroy, by the way, ranks Xavier the 14th best team in the country.
Nevertheless, Xavier climbed back up to fifth in the Associated Press and the coaches polls Monday. Villanova (24-3, 13-1), remained No. 1 in both. Villanova and second-ranked Kansas got all of the first-place votes.
Xavier is sixth in the NCAA RPI ratings; Villanova is No. 2 behind Kansas. The Wildcats have lost to Oklahoma (third in RPI), Virginia (fifth) and Providence (38th).
The last time the Musketeers beat a No. 1 team was against undefeated Saint Joseph’s in the 2004 Atlantic 10 tournament. They had No. 1 Ohio State on the ropes in the 2007 NCAA Tournament but lost in overtime.
Xavier swept the weekly Big East weekly honors with sophomore Trevon Bluiett being named Player of the Week and Sumner Freshman of the Week.
Bluiett averaged 18 points and 5.5 rebounds in the two Xavier victories over then No. 23 Providence and Georgetown. Bluiett leads the Musketeers in scoring at 15.3 ppg.
Sumner averaged 16.5 points, shooting 71.4 percent from the floor and 100 percent (11-of-11) from the free throw line. He also had zero turnovers.