CINCINNATI – Xavier coach Chris Mack scoffs at the idea that the fifth-ranked Musketeers have lost their "momentum" since beating then-No. 1 Villanova two weeks ago.
There are two troubling signs following the Musketeers into tournament play, but Mack expects them to be back at their peak going into March Madness this week.
"I don't worry about that. There is no momentum," Mack said after Xavier almost blew an 18-point lead before closing out Creighton Saturday. "You're zero-and-zero (when tournaments start). We didn't play well in the last five minutes of the game, but we'll be fine."
Xavier (26-4) wouldn't be the first team to have a letdown after knocking off a No. 1, but it's time for the Musketeers to bring their "A" game to New York's Madison Square Garden for the Big East Tournament - especially with a chance to take home the trophy and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA field.
By the usual standards, Xavier appears to be a solid No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, with Villanova considered one of the four likely No. 1s. The Musketeers are sixth in the NCAA Ratings Percentage Index with 'Nova third.
Should the Musketeers beat the Wildcats in the Big East finals, they might jump over the fourth- and fifth ranked teams in the NCAA RPI, Oregon and Oklahoma, and claim Villanova's No. 1 spot from the NCAA Selection Committee. Kansas and Virginia are 1-2 in the NCAA RPI.
Bracketologists Jerry Palm of CBSSports.com and Joe Lunardi of ESPN give Xavier a No. 2 seed. The Musketeers held on to their No. 5 ranking in this week's Associated Press and coaches polls, announced Monday afternoon. The top six didn't change. Kansas is No. 1 in both polls. Michigan State and Villanova are 2-3 in the AP poll, and flip-flop in the coaches poll. Virginia is No. 4 and Oklahoma is No. 6 in both polls.
The Big East is shaping up to be a repeat of last year, when top-seeded Villanova and Xavier met in the finals. One difference is the Musketeers brought a 19-12 record and a sixth-place Big East finish into the Garden in 2015, and 'Nova blew them out, 69-52. Xavier, though, went on to reach the NCAA Sweet 16 for the fourth time in seven years.
This year, Xavier is the No. 2 Big East seed behind Villanova and opens at 7 p.m. Thursday against the Marquette-St. John's winner in Wednesday's first round. The finals are at 5:30 p.m. Sunday.
That's the same time the expanded two-hour NCAA Tournament selection show begins.
What's wrong with Xavier? Probably nothing that a little more motivation can't cure.
After beating No. 1 Villanova on Feb. 24, the Musketeers lost by nine at Seton Hall and allowed 90 points or more in their last two games – something they had done only once in 28 previous games. And they fell behind early both times.
"The past couple of games we've been dealing with that – having a slow start," sophomore guard Trevon Bluiett (15.2 ppg) acknowledged after Saturday's win.
"I think everybody goes out and plays hard, so I don’t think it's anything about lazy play. I just think we've got to come together and get more focused," said Bluiett, who was named to the All-Big East first team over the weekend.
Bluiett was the only Xavier player out of 13 to get All-Big East honors, which you can take as testament to Xavier's balance, depth and team play. Guard Edmond Sumner (11.3 ppg) made the Big East All-Freshman team. Sophomore J.P. Macura (9.5 ppg) won the Sixth Man Award.
Junior guard Myles Davis (11.3 ppg) said it was good to have a six days off between the last two games.
"It was good to finally rest. In a season like this, you don't see too many off days," Davis said. "But it was good to get our legs back under us and get ready for the Big East Tournament."
After beating Creighton, Mack didn't want tournament talk to overshadow what his team has already accomplished. The Musketeers matched the 2007-08 Elite Eight team (26-5) for most wins in the regular season.
"I told our team after in the game in the locker room there have been a lot of Xavier basketball teams that have been on the Cintas floor, that have been at Cincinnati Gardens, that have been at Schmidt Fieldhouse, and not one of them ever played the schedule that this team played. To be 26-4, the best regular season in the history of our program, I'm really proud of our team," Mack said.
The 2007-08 team finished 30-7 for the most wins by a Xavier men's team.