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Xavier's RPI jump validates claim for No. 1 seed

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Posted at 5:52 AM, Feb 25, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-25 14:51:29-05

CINCINNATI - No.  5 Xavier made a big impression on the nation with its dominating 90-83 win over No. 1 Villanova and showed the NCAA Tournament Committee it deserves a No. 1 seed. But what about the pollsters?

Should the Musketeers be ranked No. 1 in the polls? That argument won't be settled until next week. In the meantime, though, Xavier has another reason to chest bump.

The Musketeers jumped from sixth to third in the NCAA Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) overnight behind Kansas and Villanova. That validates the Musketeers' claim to a No. 1 seed, along with their best-in-the-country 25-3 record, fewest losses and eight top-50 wins.

Xavier didn't have to convince bracketologist Jerry Palm of CBSSports.com - Palm already had Xavier as one of the four No. 1 seeds on his bracket  - but Palm was impressed enough to raise the Musketeers to the No. 2 overall seed behind only Kansas (24-4), followed by Oklahoma (22-5) and Villanova (24-4).

ESPN's Joe Lunardi is a holdout, though, and still has Xavier as a No. 2 seed. He gives North Carolina (23-5) a No. 1, along with Kansas, Oklahoma and Villanova. North Carolina is eighth in the NCAA RPI.

ESPN's Jeff Goodman said Xavier got "the marquee win" it needed to get a No. 1, but he isn't ready to award it to the Musketeers.

"There aren't a lot of teams that have locked up a No. 1. Kansas has the best shot. Other than that, it's wide open," Goodman said.

Xavier fans may suspect an ESPN bias, since FOX Sports televises the Big East. But that's all part of the game. And it doesn't explain why Xavier hasn't received a single first-place vote in the polls this season.

Xavier could - and should - pick up some first-place votes when the polls are updated Monday, but not enough for the  Musketeers to jump all the way from fifth to first. While Villanova is sure to drop out of No. 1, there's no clear-cut favorite for the top spot.

Most likely, No. 2 Kansas, which got 20 first-place votes in the Associated Press sportswriters' poll and seven in the coaches poll, will slide into the top spot in both. But No. 2 or No. 3 is not out of the question for Xavier since last week's 3 through 5 - Virginia (21-6), Oklahoma and Xavier - were tightly bunched.

Maybe the closest thing to sabermetrics in college basketball, the KenPom ratings, has Xavier 10th - up from 14th before Wednesday night's game. The KenPom ratings penalize Xavier for having a weaker schedule. The pollsters may be thinking the same thing.

Xavier has never been ranked higher than fifth in the AP poll or higher than fourth in the coaches poll.

Now that the Musketeers are sitting pretty near the top of college basketball, they have to avoid slipping and falling in their final two regular-season games. They will have a tough test Saturday at Seton Hall (19-7).

The Pirates are 43rd in NCAA RPI and could use a big win over Xavier to ensure an NCAA Tournament bid. Palm gives them a No. 10 seed.

Xavier beat Seton Hall at home, 84-76, on Jan. 23.

The Musketeers close out March 5 at home against Creighton (17-11), one of the three teams to beat Xavier this season. The Blue Jays won, 70-56, at Omaha on Feb. 9.

Creighton is 89th in NCAA RPI and has little chance of making the NCAA field, but beating Xavier and winning a game or two in the Big East tournament could get them on the bubble.

After that, the Musketeers have the Big East tourney in New York starting March 9.  Villanova (13-2 in the conference) figures to get the No. 1 seed ahead of Xavier (13-3). Villanova finishes with Big East bottom feeders Marquette, DePaul and Georgetown.

If both teams win out to get to the conference finals, the winner ought to get a No. 1 seed in the NCAA field – and there's a chance the loser would get one, too.