Xavier has made the tournament 12 out of the past 15 seasons dating back to the turn of the century. The only years they failed to make the tournament were 2000, 2005, and 2013. Since 2000, Xavier has not missed the tournament two years in a row. The last time that happened was the 1998-99 and 1999-2000 season. They went five years in a row without missing out between 2000 and 2005, and eight years in a row without missing out between 2005 and 2013. The reason for bringing this up, is that recent history shows us that Xavier tends make the tournament nearly every year. Rarely missing out on the dance has become a stable of the program. X is expected to make the tournament every season, so their best case and worst case scenarios have to be above and below that benchmark.
I like when people tell me the bad news first. Let’s begin with Xavier’s worst case scenario. USA Today has X as a 10 seed safely getting into the tournament avoiding a play-in game. CBS Sports Big East conference preview has Xavier finishing no lower than fourth and no higher than second in the conference. A finish within the two to four range should get Xavier into the dance. A play-in game is still a likely scenario if they finish fourth (they finished fourth last year and played in one of the play-in games).
Worst-case for X is to not make the tournament. This would be a step back for a school that has been the poster child of what a consistent winning basketball program looks like the past 15 seasons. Xavier would lose some of that charm they have gained from all those Cinderella runs they have had. Missing out on the tournament in two out of the past three years would lead to many questions needing some answers. If of course (knock on wood) one of Xavier’s most pivotal players gets hurt (Matt Stainbrook, Dee Davis, Jalen Reynolds, Remy Abell) or X catches the injury bug that affects several players on the roster, then few questions should be asked. Not making the tournament because of injuries is usually a viable excuse.
Is having a youthful team a viable excuse though? I would say not considering the best-rated recruiting class in school history are the freshmen. There is also returning big man Matt Stainbrook, who is predicted to be on the Big East All-First team according to multiple sources. There is also senior-laden guard Dee Davis, and experienced Indiana transfer Remy Abell. If this team fails to make the goal of playing meaningful basketball come mid-March, that means there was a lack of leadership and discipline on this roster. At the end of the day, the questions have to be answered by the head coach. Coach Chris Mack could pull the "youth" card, but that isn’t a valid excuse with this Xavier team. Maybe that will fly as legitimate to the fan who knows little about this team, but not to the people who actually know how good this team can be.
Now their lies the question. How good can this team be? What is the best-case scenario for a team with seven new faces and who has lost their top three leading scorers from last season? I would say Sweet 16 is the best-case scenario for this team. They have enough experience and enough talented young players to be one of the last 16 teams standing. What separates them from being one of the last eight teams standing will ultimately be the absence of a go-to player at the end of games and lack of experience. Although, this team does have a nice balance of experience and inexperience that can lead to a seventh Sweet 16 in school history. However, they are not one of the typical senior and junior loaded teams that tend to make a run in March. A run that ends in the Elite Eight or Final Four.
What's interesting, was the lack of upperclassmen on the two elite eight teams in Xavier history. The 2004 team had five upperclassmen, four seniors and one junior. The 2008 team also had five upperclassmen, three seniors and two juniors. As for freshmen, the 2004 team had two and the 2008 team had three. The 2014-15 Xavier Musketeers have four upperclassmen, two seniors and two juniors (if not for being declared academically ineligible their freshmen seasons, Myles Davis and Jalen Reynolds would also be juniors). Those upperclassmen numbers are similar to’04 and ‘08, but they mean little when you look at the different amount of frosh on the teams. The 2014-15 team has an uncommon six freshmen, triple and double of that compared to the ’04 and ’08 teams.
I would love to see this year’s Xavier team prove me wrong and reach the third Elite Eight in school history, but predicting this would be foolish. The best-case is Xavier reaches the Sweet 16 again and a buzz surrounds this team that hasn’t since early in the 2011-12 season (pre-brawl). The worst-case is Xavier misses the dance for a surprising second time in three years, and slowly Xavier fans begin to accept this new norm of mediocrity.
What do you think are the best case and worst case scenarios for Xavier? Voice your opinion in the comments section!