How to Watch, Listen, and Stream
Game Time: 9:30 ET
TV: Fox Sports 1
Radio: 670 The Score (DePaul), 700 WLW (Xavier)
Stream: Fox Sports Go
Xavier comes into the game as 10 point favorites, per OddsShark. The over/under is set at 144.
Xavier swept DePaul in the regular season, beating the Blue Demons 72-61 in February and 95-84 last weekend. The Musketeers, 7-seed in the Big East Tournament, are 9-9 in conference play. The Blue Demons struggled to a 2-16 record that gave them the 10-seed in New York.
Joe Lunardi’s analysis on the NCAA Tournament is typically golden; the prophetic wisdom on his seed lines can generate terror or provoke cheerfulness. The nation’s leading bracketologist of ESPN had Xavier as a two-seed on December 1, but he justifiably knocked Xavier down nine seeds in the last three months. It doesn’t take a messiah to see how a former goliath has fallen.
Xavier’s season has been steadily spiraling downwards throughout 2017, as nagging injuries to Edmond Sumner, the Musketeers’ uber-athletic star point guard, affected the team more and more. The panic originated from three consecutive disheartening losses to Villanova, Butler, and Creighton. Sumner stumbled and began to wear away. Xavier became easier to guard without its motor. Trevon Bluiett, the ultimate scorer who led Xavier in points this season, ran into more double teams as defenses sagged off of Sumner, and he struggled with his heightened playmaking responsibilities.
On January 29 at St. John’s, Edmond Sumner tore his ACL, and all of the wheels began to fall off. Xavier initially rallied as Bluiett carried the Musketeers to impressive wins over Seton Hall and Creighton, but Xavier was forced to scrap for victories. Throwing freshman Quinten Goodin into the fire, Xavier could only manage 70 points a game behind an inexperienced playmaker and a slower decision maker.
Then Bluiett’s ankles and knees started to suffer as much as the basketball team. He missed two games, and role players including Goodin and JP Macura were the only remaining shot creators. Xavier started running post up plays for former bit players, Sean O’Mara and RaShid Gaston.
The former projected two-seed saw its tournament projections steadily fall as more and more players fell with injury. Yet, the Musketeers showed just enough promise and just enough grit at their high points to present a viable argument to the committee. Prognostications like Lunardi’s have Xavier squarely on the bubble, somewhere between a ten and an eleven seed. Jerry Palm of CBS Sports had the Musketeers as one of the last four in. A win for Xavier does very little to their resume (DePaul managed to lose to UIC at home, after all). A loss leaves them sweating, and probably puts them out of the field. Xavier’s epic tumble has likely put them in a win-or-go-home situation, playing against (somewhat anticlimactically) the worst team in the conference. It will fittingly be played out on the biggest stage, in the “World’s Most Famous Arena,” and with thousands of Xavier fans on the edge of their seats, wishing rock bottom is in the rear view mirror.
A loss would be utterly detrimental to Xavier’s tournament hopes. A win gives them a better and surer opportunity to cement their status against Butler on Thursday night.
Don’t count out the spoiler! Any upset is possible in March! Crazier things have happened! Maybe Billy Garrett, Jr. is the next Kemba! (DePaul doesn’t really have any real stakes in this game except extending their stay in New York).
Trevon Bluiett has the skill set to take over MSG this weekend. With a history of big games on big stages (40 points against rival UC, 23 at Baylor, The All-American candidate and First Team all-Big East forward averaged 22 points against DePaul this season, shooting almost 50%. His game as a three-four swingman who mixes difficult threes with turnaround jumpers somewhat resembles a primitive version of Carmelo Anthony. If Xavier manages to be a “dark horse” in this Tournament or in next week’s Big Dance, it will be on his shoulders.
Billy Garrett, Jr. could be playing the final game of his storied DePaul career. He’s been the focal point of the Blue Demons’ offense for four years, averaging about 14 points and 3.5 assists per game over that time. This year, his production has ramped up significantly, he takes almost two more shots per game and plays three more minutes per game. In DePaul’s two conference wins, he averaged 15.5 points and five assists, but his poor shooting percentage (38%) tends to hold his teammates back. Hopefully, his teammates can rally around him and give him a fittingly triumphant send-off.