From a strict standings-centric viewpoint, Saturday night’s game against Butler might be pointless for Xavier. Should floundering but favored Marquette beat St. John’s, Xavier will finish seventh in the Big East and will be forced to open the Big East Tournament next Wednesday evening against DePaul due to the Golden Eagles’ season sweep of the Musketeers. If Marquette loses to the Red Storm, things get interesting.
First off, a Butler win is the simplest solution. Butler would finish fifth in the Big East at 10-8 while Xavier would finish seventh at 8-10 (Marquette would finish sixth regardless of whether the Eagles beat St. John’s). A Marquette loss combined with a Xavier win makes the most pertinent standings battle easy to solve as well: Marquette would finish seventh at 8-10 while Xavier and Butler would both be 9-9.
Whether Butler or Xavier finishes fifth depends on the other Big East results. Since the two would have split their season series, positioning will be decided by the conference’s tiebreaker system. The gist of the tiebreaker is that you compare the two tied teams’ results against the teams at the top league, working your way down the standings until one of the tied teams outperformed the other.
The most straightforward result is if Seton Hall beats Creighton to win the Big East. Xavier went 1-1 against the Pirates while Butler went 0-2, so the Musketeers would finish ahead of the Bulldogs. If Creighton beats Seton Hall and Villanova wins, the resulting three-way tie also makes for a relatively clean result: Butler would have gone 2-4 against those three teams while Xavier went just 1-5. Butler would finish fifth in this scenario.
A Creighton win combined with a Villanova loss would result in Butler finishing fifth as well. In this scenario, both Xavier and Butler would be 1-3 against Creighton and Seton Hall. Villanova would finish third, possibly in a tie with Providence. Butler went 1-1 against the Wildcats and 2-2 against Villanova and Providence. Xavier went 0-2 versus Villanova and 1-3 against the Friars/Wildcats. As such, Butler would be the fifth and Xavier would be sixth.
What happened last time?
The February 12th match-up between Xavier and Butler followed a familiar script for this season’s Musketeers. After ten back-and-forth minutes, Butler pulled out in front and eventually built a 17 point lead. Like it has on most occasions this year, Xavier fought back and had the Bulldog lead cut to six in the final minutes; however, the Musketeers were unable to trim that deficit below six until Naji Marshall hit a very significant (to some) off-balance three at the buzzer to settle the score at 66-61.
In a game in which the two teams’ stat sheets were virtually identical at the end, Butler was carried by an ensemble cast. Five players scored at least eight points, led by Sean McDermott’s 14 points. While Kamar Baldwin scored 11 points, the Musketeers did a relatively good job containing him by holding him to 3-11 from the field. Baldwin’s struggles were counterbalanced by a surprising source as Henry Baddley drained three threes in a less than four-minute stretch while Butler built its large advantage.
While Butler was led by an ensemble cast, Xavier only had its two stars show up. Marshall wound up stuffing the stat sheet with 20 points, seven rebounds, and seven assists while Tyrique Jones recorded one of his 20 double-doubles with 19 points and 10 rebounds.
Questions for this time around
- Will Paul Scruggs play? The Indianapolis native and Xavier’s s third-leading scorer was a late scratch after a Tuesday practice collision with Jones forced him to miss Wednesday’s game against Providence. Scrugg’s offensive abilities get all of the attention but the lack of his length and defensive aptitude were a large reason the Friars torched the Musketeers from deep in the first half going 8-16. While Butler isn’t the best shooting team in the league (its 33.6% ranks fifth), a couple of threes could be the difference against the league’s toughest perimeter defense (Xavier’s opponents shoot 29.8% from deep).
- Will McDermott keep it going? Since he dropped 14 points on Xavier back in February, the senior forward has scored a least ten points and made two threes in each of the five games since. His totals may not be spectacular but Lavall Jordan has been able to rely on the Anderson, Ind. native’s consistency.
- What gives, Xavier’s propensity to turn the ball over or Butler’s disinterest in forcing turnovers? Of Big East teams, only DePaul has turned the ball over more frequently in conference play than Xavier has. Meanwhile, Butler forces turnovers at the second-fewest rate in the conference games besting only Marquette. Xavier hasn’t had a game with fewer than 13 turnovers since it had nine against Butler in February, the Musketeers will have to limit their miscues to a similar number if they plan on picking up a big win.
Time/Place: 8:30 p.m. at Cintas Center, Cincinnati, OH
Line: Xavier -2.5
Back in mid-January, it seemed unfathomable that Xavier would be favored against Butler in a game this season but here we are. While the team’s early conference record may have been a product of a front-heavy conference schedule for Xavier, that doesn’t change the fact that Butler hasn’t quite been the same team since the latter stages of January. There isn’t a great reason for the dip in performance (glue guy Christian David tore his ACL against Villanova on Jan. 21 but was only averaging 2.6 ppg), but it’s hard to say that the Bulldogs are playing better than Xavier at the moment.
While it should be a relatively even game, Xavier has more on-the-line. Unlike the secure Bulldogs, the Musketeers are too close to the bubble for comfort. Bracketmatrix.com has the Musketeers in 100 of 101 submitted brackets but as the last ten-seed. A loss to Butler would leave Xavier in a very dangerous game against DePaul in the Big East tournament. Meanwhile, a win against Butler would be Xavier’s fourth Q1 win and could (depending on Marquette-St. John’s earlier that day) keep the Musketeers from picking up a bad loss next Wednesday.
Between the necessity of the game and the senior’s final game at Cintas Center, the intangibles show why Xavier is favored. It’ll be a close game but, with the season on the line, the Musketeers pull through.
Xavier 67, Butler 62