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Bracketology Report: Xavier Musketeers

Xavier Musketeers—(14-10, 7-4)—5th place in the Atlantic 10

Strength of schedule: 96

RPI: 98

BPI: 87

Good wins:

  • 62-47 vs. Butler
  • 57-52 vs. Temple
  • 70-63 vs. La Salle

Bad losses:

  • 56-55 vs. Wofford
  • 66-59 @ Wake Forest

Remaining schedule:

  • 2/20 @ Rhode Island
  • 2/23 vs. No. 24 VCU
  • 2/26 vs. No. 21 Memphis
  • 3/2 vs. Massachusetts
  • 3/6 vs. Saint Louis
  • 3/9 @ Butler

Xavier has made the NCAA Tournament in each of the last seven seasons and in 11 of the past 12 but the Musketeers are on pace to miss the Big Dance this year. XU Coach Chris Mack had a difficult challenge ahead of him for the 2012-13 season when senior guard Mark Lyons and sophomore forward Dez Wells left the team. Lyons and Mack disagreed about Lyons’ role on the team, which led to Lyons transferring to Arizona; Wells was expelled from Xavier University after allegedly committing sexual assault but he was never charged. XU Coach Mack had to replace all five starters from last year’s Musketeers team that made the Sweet Sixteen.

Led by freshman sensation Semaj Christon, Xavier has remained in the top third of the A-10 but the Muskies’ résumé needs some major improvement for XU to be chosen by the selection committee on March 17th. The highlight of Xavier’s non-conference schedule and overall résumé is a 15-point victory against Butler on Nov. 13. While XU has also defeated La Salle and Temple, who are fourth and seventh in the A-10, respectively, the Musketeers let too many winnable games slip out of their grasp. Xavier lost by three to Pacific, two to Vanderbilt in overtime, one to Wofford, four to Tennessee, six to Charlotte and two to Richmond.

Freshman point guard Semaj Christon has been one of the few bright spots for Xavier this season. (Image courtesy of www.bannersontheparkway.com)
Freshman point guard Semaj Christon has been one of the few bright spots for Xavier this season. (Image courtesy of http://www.bannersontheparkway.com)

While Xavier is certainly on the outside, looking in on the field of 68 teams selected for the NCAA Tournament, hope remains for the Musketeers. Three of Xavier’s final six games are against ranked opponents, in addition to a matchup against the A-10 leading Saint Louis Billikens. If the Musketeers can win three of those four games, or if they can win the A-10 Tournament, Xavier will be in the Big Dance.

Prediction: Xavier will defeat Rhode Island and Massachusetts but will lose to VCU, Memphis, Saint Louis and Butler. The Musketeers will be the No. 7 seed in the A-10 Tournament. XU will win its first round matchup but lose in the second round. Xavier’s 17-15 record will earn the Musketeers a No. 7 seed in the NIT.

College basketball stock report: 5 teams to buy, sell or hold

Illinois

SELL

The Fighting Illini started the season 12-0 and defeated No. 10 Gonzaga on the road by double digits. However, since Illinois’ victory over Eastern Kentucky on Dec. 16, John Groce’s squad is 3-5 and 2-4 in the Big Ten. The Illini lost to unranked Purdue, Wisconsin and Northwestern, which does not bode well since their schedule will only get tougher as the season progresses. They still have to play Michigan twice, Indiana and Michigan State for the first time, in addition to rematches against Minnesota and Ohio State.

Michigan State

BUY

It's a good time to be in East Lansing, Mich. as Tom Izzo and the Michigan State Spartans sit atop the Big Ten standings with a 6-1 record. (Image courtesy of http://wkzo.com/news/articles/2012/sep/24/msu-basketball-coach-tom-izzo-guest-speaker-at-kalamazoo-benefit/)
It’s a good time to be in East Lansing, Mich. since Tom Izzo and the Michigan State Spartans sit atop the Big Ten standings with a 6-1 record. (Image courtesy of http://wkzo.com/news/articles/2012/sep/24/msu-basketball-coach-tom-izzo-guest-speaker-at-kalamazoo-benefit/)

The Spartans were on the verge of dropping out of the AP Top 25 after three losses in the 2012 calendar year. Michigan State’s challenging non-conference schedule paid off; Tom Izzo’s squad is leading the Big Ten with a two game lead over Michigan and Indiana. Three of Michigan State’s Big Ten wins are by three points or fewer, which separates great teams from the good ones in March.

 Oregon

BUY

The Ducks sit alone at the top of the Pac-12 standings after defeating No. 24 UCLA last Saturday. Arizona and UCLA only appear once on Oregon’s schedule, which means there are no ranked opponents remaining on the Ducks’ schedule. Oregon is in the driver’s seat to win the Pac-12 now that the team’s biggest challenges are in the Ducks’ rearview mirror.

Wisconsin

HOLD

Bo Ryan’s Badgers are a very perplexing team. Wisconsin lost four of its first 10 games then rattled off seven consecutive wins, including victories over No. 12 Illinois and No. 2 Indiana. After defeating the Hoosiers in Assembly Hall, the Badgers dropped two games to Iowa and Michigan State by a total of six points. Wisconsin has the coach and the talent to finish in the top three in the Big Ten or the Badgers could end up sixth or seventh. They have been too inconsistent to determine how good they can be in college basketball’s toughest conference.

Xavier

BUY

The 2012-13 Musketeers are possibly one of the weakest Xavier teams in the past decade and most Atlantic 10 projections have Xavier as a middle-of-the-road team in the conference yet Semaj Christon & Co. have started to turn their season around in conference play. Don’t look now but Xavier is tied with Virginia Commonwealth for first place. The Muskies have pulled out close wins against Temple, St. Bonaventure and La Salle after losing four straight games in non-conference play. They don’t play VCU and Butler until late in the season, which means that Xavier has over a month to improve before it faces two of the A-10’s best teams.

Indiana’s non-conference schedule raises questions

The Indiana Hoosiers sat comfortably atop the preseason college basketball rankings with over double the number of first place votes than No. 2 Louisville in the AP ballot. Even though the 12-1 Hoosiers rank in the top eleven teams in the country in terms of points, rebounds and assists per game as well as field goal percentage, Indiana’s non-conference schedule raises questions about how the preseason No. 1 team will fare in the long run this season.

Indiana lacks a true road test and wins against high caliber opponents in its non-conference schedule.
Indiana lacks a true road test and wins against high caliber opponents in its non-conference schedule.

Through 13 games, Indiana’s best wins are a 24-point blowout victory against North Carolina, who is now unranked despite being ranked fourteenth at the time of the matchup, and a nail-biter against Georgetown in the Progressive Legends Classic Championship in which IU needed an overtime period to pull out the win.

Indiana’s lone loss was in an in-state matchup against Butler, who was unranked at the time but is now ranked eighteenth.

The Hoosiers have yet to compete in a true road test—their non-conference schedule was composed of 10 home games and three matchups on neutral courts. In those games on neutral courts, Indiana did not play like the best team in the country, as its rank indicated. IU was only winning by five points with nine minutes remaining in the second half against Georgia before winning by 13. In the game against Georgetown, there were nine lead changes and the Hoosiers’ largest lead of eight points was short-lived. Not much needs to be said about Indiana’s performance against Butler other than that the Hoosiers let a winnable game slip from their grasp in overtime.

The majority of IU’s home schedule was filled with “cupcake” teams that are incredibly unlikely to win their conference tournaments and make the NCAA Tournament because receiving at-large bids are probably out of the question. It is no surprise that Indiana University and Athletic Director Fred Glass scheduled games against opponents that the Hoosiers could score at least 100 points against in guaranteed blowout wins but Indiana had nine of those games instead of challenging itself against more formidable opponents.

Opponent

Opponent’s RPI (as of 12/30/12)

Score

Bryant

201

97-54

North Dakota State

345

87-61

Sam Houston State

227

99-45

Ball State

252

101-53

Coppin State

280

87-51

Central Connecticut State

133

100-69

Mount St. Mary’s

97

93-54

Florida Atlantic

232

88-52

Jacksonville

294

93-59

A few of these games may have been necessary in order to boost the team’s confidence and to give some of the guys towards the end of the bench in-game action but how much will nearly a dozen thirty-point blowouts help the development of a team with its sights on a national championship?

Indiana’s Big Ten schedule, which includes nine games against teams currently ranked, will certainly challenge the Hoosiers but they haven’t been tested enough to appropriately prepare for the difficult conference schedule that awaits them, beginning with a road game against Iowa on Monday, December 31st.

_______________________________

Duke and Michigan State are two schools that Indiana, and the rest of the country for that matter, should look to model themselves after in terms of the difficulty of their non-conference schedules. The Blue Devils have faced No. 3 Kentucky, Minnesota, VCU, No. 2 Louisville, No. 4 Ohio State and Temple. While Duke lacks an away game on its résumé, the Blue Devils have half a dozen wins against tournament bound teams.

Michigan State is known for playing top-ranked competition and scheduling road games that most programs of its caliber would not. The Spartans kicked off their 2012 campaign with games against No. 23 Connecticut and No. 7 Kansas. Tom Izzo’s team then went on the road to play Miami (FL) and Bowling Green. It is no coincidence that since 1995 when Izzo became the Spartans’ head coach, Michigan State has won a national championship and has six Final Four appearances.

Duke Deserves to be Ranked Number One

As a freshman at Indiana University, my allegiance is to the Hoosiers, who currently sit atop the college basketball rankings. Indiana has a 7-0 record and is coming off of a 24-point victory over No. 14 North Carolina. The team’s other statement win came in the Legends Classic championship game against Georgetown. While I would pick IU to win a matchup against any team in the country, I’m going to assume the role of the devil’s advocate and argue that Duke deserves to be ranked number one.

There may not be a team in the history of college basketball that has compiled a more impressive resumé through the first seven games of the season. The Blue Devils have three wins over top five teams to their name. Duke has already knocked off No. 3 Kentucky, No. 2 Louisville, and No. 4 Ohio State. Add in a victory against Minnesota, who is currently No. 21 in the country, and one of the best mid-major programs over the past two seasons, VCU. And their non-conference schedule is not quite over; Duke will play Temple and Davidson, two respectable opponents, before ACC play begins. At this pace, Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s squad has virtually guaranteed itself a No. 1 seed in March.

Mason Plumlee has led Duke to a hot start and consideration for the top spot in the rankings. Courtesy of http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1393299-duke-basketball-full-preview-predictions-and-storylines-for-2012-13.

IU would be ranked second at no fault of its own. Duke has simply scheduled some of the best competition in college basketball and passed every test with flying colors. Down the road, however, Indiana’s schedule is much tougher than that of Duke. The Hoosiers have ten Big Ten games against teams that are currently ranked and that number could increase if Wisconsin can find its way back into the top 25. The Blue Devils have two games against both North Carolina and North Carolina State but no other team is ranked. Florida State is the next closest team from the ACC to being ranked and the Seminoles are the 37th team in the AP poll.

Without question, Indiana and Duke have proven themselves to be the two best teams in the country. One can only hope that they meet in Atlanta next spring in the Final Four or the national championship game. Coach K vs. Tom Crean. Mason Plumlee vs. Cody Zeller. Seth Curry vs. Yogi Ferrell.  Those matchups have March Madness written all over them. In the mean time, the two college basketball powerhouses can only compete in the polls, where they will likely be separated by the smallest of margins.

The Year of the Upset

At the start of the NCAA Tournament Thursday afternoon, it seemed that there would be very few upsets. The first nine games went the way of “chalk,” meaning that the lower, favorited seed won. March became a little madder when VCU followed up its Final Four appearance in 2011 by upsetting the #5 seed Wichita State by three points. In the final matchup of the opening day of the tourney, Colorado set the tone for Friday’s games by shocking the UNLV Running Rebels, #6 seed and #25 overall in the AP poll. As a whole, the number of upsets was surprisingly small. On average, there are eight upsets in the round of 64 based on the seed, putting this year’s tournament to fill only half of the “quota.”

After all the games are finished for the second round, there were eight upsets on Friday, including two #15  seeds beating #2 seeds. North Carolina State, who finished 22-12 and fifth place in the ACC, trumped #6 San Diego State 79-65. The game was close at halftime, with the Wolfpack leading by four points, but NC State took over in the second half, led by Richard Howell’s twenty-two points.

Courtesy of http://espn.go.com/blog/collegebasketballnation/tag/_/name/2012-columbus-region

Entering the 2012 edition of the NCAA Tournament, #15 seeds were 4-104 all-time against #2 seeds. That’s an average of one every 27 years. In historic fashion, two #2 seeds fell on Friday to their higher-ranked opponents. The Missouri Tigers were a trendy favorite to represent the West region in the Final Four. Mizzou was 30-4 in the regular season and won the Big 12 Tournament by defeating Baylor handily in the championship game. Three of their four losses were to ranked opponents and tournament teams, proving to be a tough out all season. In its first NCAA Tournament appearance, the Norfolk State Spartans shocked the basketball world by upsetting Mizzou 86-84 thanks to a great shooting performance. Three Spartans had at least twenty points and the team shot 54% from the floor. Missouri fought back at the end of the game and had a three-point attempt at the buzzer but it clanked off the rim and Norfolk State completed to unexpected upset. What made the night even more unpredictable was when Lehigh came back from being down by two at halftime to stun Coach K and the Duke Blue Devils. Led by junior guard C.J. McCollum, who scored thirty points, grabbed six rebounds, and had six assists, the Mountain Hawks go on to play Xavier.

Courtesy of http://www.silive.com/sports/index.ssf/2012/03/a_pair_of_no_2s_out_of_ncaa_to.html

While a #9 seed beating a #8 is not usually considered an upset, Saint Louis beat Memphis behind Kwamain Mitchell’s 22 points. Robbie Hummell and the Purdue Boilermakers narrowly beat St. Mary’s 72-69. Two years ago, the Ohio Bobcats as a #14 seed stunned the Georgetown Hoyas in the first round. Some of those same players are on the current squad that upset #4 Michigan 65-60. In the final games of the night, South Florida handed Temple a fourteen-point loss to be the second twelve seed this year to upset a five seed. Lastly, Xavier rallied to overcome a ten point deficit to beat Notre Dame after a bad lane violation call nullified a Fighting Irish one-and-one.

At this rate, this will be the craziest March Madness in the history of the tournament. Almost every game is down to the wire and anyone can beat anyone else. While Kentucky is playing at a higher level than every other team in the field, it is a toss-up for the matchups in the round of 32. If you ignore that seeds of the teams and compare them without a bias, there is very little separating the teams who remain in the tournament.

Courtesy of http://msn.foxsports.com/collegebasketball/story/Xavier-Musketeers-beat-Vanderbilt-Commodores-in-overtime-112811

Out of the remaining teams who upset a lower-ranked seed, I predict Xavier, VCU, and South Florida to advance to the Sweet Sixteen. Out of the 32 teams left in the field, Xavier, South Florida, and Murray State have the best chances to make it to the Elite Eight. Although, no matter who wins, I think everyone can agree that this has been the greatest opening weekend of the tournament we have ever seen and it can only get better from here.